As October draws to an end and Halloween approaches, we all have many things on our minds. Spiders, for example, are one of them. One spider in particular, the Phidippus regius – also known as the Regal Jumping spider – comes to mind.
With cartoon-like eyes, colorful little pinchers and furry little legs, who could be afraid of them? These fanciful creatures have caught many people’s eye on a Facebook page called Ophelia the Monster. The owner of the page, Heather Bruen, is the breeder of these spiders. To rejoice in the Halloween season, an investigation unfolded to understand the lifestyle of a critter-handler, specifically that of Ophelia’s spider mama.
Bruen lives in New Jersey and has been breeding these spiders, colloquially referred to as “Phids,” for three years. Surprisingly, she used to hate spiders. She always considered them to be “creepy and scary” (as many do). Her fear of spiders softened when she lived in Florida for a time and was not permitted to have pets. The Phids are native to the area in Florida where she lived and they caught her eye. Once she began to pay attention to them, she noticed that they began to pay attention to her as well.
Bruen picked up on the variation of their color patterns, their personalities and she noticed that some were even friendly and reciprocated interest. “I am a pet person. I have to have an animal around, it’s kind of essential to my contentment,” Bruen said.
Upon moving back home to New Jersey, her family told her not to bring the spiders with her, but she didn’t listen. “They were a little weirded out at first,” Bruen said. Her family had the same preconceived notion that the spiders were “creepy little monsters.” It didn’t take long for Heather and her brood of Phids to win them over.
“They see how popular they have become and how much like domesticated little pets they are,” Bruen said. “They are really intrigued that I turned a page I started for fun into a huge following.”
Bruen did not start breeding them or to gain internet notoriety. “I never got into this with the intention of breeding,” she said. “I started my page just being funny, a fan page for a spider.” She followed a few family members and some friends in the hobby. Three years later, Ophelia became a star and Bruen’s Facebook page gained 130,000 followers.
There are many rewarding things about this hobby. Bruen likes being able to form a special connection with an unexpected animal. “It makes you more aware of the lives that exist on this planet and how important each one is,” she said. “No matter how tiny or insignificant they may seem.”
Raising Phids has a therapeutic element for Bruen and she hopes that by sharing her experiences, as well as placing her spiders with others, she is able to help other people find those special connections. She receives many messages from people who’ve found themselves immersed in the Phid community – people who’ve shared the hobby with their own social circles. She loves receiving updates from the offspring of her personal spiders. Many would-be spider parents use her videos and page information as resources before embarking on their spider journey.
With all the benefits, there are of course a few downfalls. Though Bruen’s never been bitten, Phids do have teeth leaving spider owners with the potential of getting hurt. Spiders typically only bite if they are being mishandled. The lifespan of a Regal Jumping spider is approximately two years. That being said, they are also very fragile, so anything could happen.
“Their little lives are definitely too short,” Bruen said. “But it makes you value the time that you have with them.”
One of Bruen’s favorite memories is with her little spider girl, Esme. She got her from another breeder with the intention to breed her with one of her own spiders. Bruen had Esme out for some free time and after a two-second distraction, she looked back to find Esme had disappeared.
Frantically searching, days went by with no trace of Esme. About a month later, Bruen happened to look down at her office chair and Esme came crawling up to her. Bruen was so relieved. She fed and watered Esme since she’d been loose for so long, rejoicing in the strong bond she had created with her.
Two weeks later, a tiny baby spider came crawling up to Bruen, followed by several more little ones. They came from the same spot in the chair that Esme appeared from. Bruen put two-and-two together and realized that Esme escaped only to lay eggs and guard them. Esme was with them until she was ready to come home. Bruen spent the day finding the rest of the babies and bringing them to safety.
“I guess most people would find this story horrifying,” Bruen said. “But I thought it was pretty comical.”
For anyone interested in owning “Phids,” Bruen recommends to do a lot of research. She mentioned that there are many Facebook groups, care sheets and other resources dedicated to spider husbandry. She also recommends learning about the climate the spider comes from and to make sure that they are kept at a good temperature.
Because they are so fragile, Bruen cannot stress the importance of proper maintenance and care enough. “These spiders came into my life during something incredibly difficult,” she said. “Having them to care for during that time played a huge role in getting me through it with a positive outcome.”
Bruen said being able to share this experience with others is “extremely rewarding.” She is selective over who she rehomes the spiders to because “you want people to be properly educated before they get one.”
If one is a lover of all things spooky, they’re bound to be drawn to these 8-legged cuties. The idea of having a tiny gentle friend is extremely appealing.
For more information, visit opheliathemonster.com, or visit Ophelia the Monster on Facebook.