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Students push state spider status for daring arachnid

January 27, 2021 GMT

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Third graders urging lawmakers to adopt yet another state symbol presented a compelling case Wednesday for a creature that embodies everything from New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” motto to its famed fall foliage: The daring jumping spider.

The House Environment and Agriculture Committee held a public hearing on a bill to designate the fuzzy, quarter-sized arachnid as the official state spider of New Hampshire. Tara Happy, a science teacher at Hollis Primary School, said the legislation grew out of a weeklong unit designed to reduce fear of spiders.

“I started out with a class yelling ‘Ewwww’ and by the end of the week ... they were literally waiting in line to hold a little black spider with their bare hands,” she said. “But what I didn’t expect to happen was a school-wide movement to elect a New Hampshire state spider. After learning how important spiders are to our world, the students were a little shocked to learn that such an important species wasn’t recognized with a state symbol.”

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After lots of research, “some heated spider debates” and a vote, students selected the daring jumping spider — formal name Phidippus audax. Several of them made their case to the committee Wednesday via video, as the Statehouse remains closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Of all the spiders in New Hampshire, the jumping spider is leaps and bounds above the rest,” said 8-year-old Nora.

Another student, Chloe, highlighted the spider’s hardiness — “In winter, it doesn’t just curl up and die, it stays strong” — while another called it “cute and colorful like New Hampshire’s trees in autumn.” That student, Jeffrey, also described how the spiders create “parachutes” to fly to new homes.

“They like to be free, just like the citizens of New Hampshire believe in freedom,” he said.

Perhaps appealing to another New Hampshire tradition — the constant hunt for revenue in the absence of a sales or income tax — Jeffrey also suggested the spider could be a money maker, via state spider key chains, refrigerator magnets, t-shirts and license plates.

“We have a state vegetable, and I don’t really like vegetables so I think we should have a state spider to even it out a bit,” he said.

New Hampshire adopted the white potato as the state’s official vegetable in 2013 at the request of Derry Village Elementary School students. Over the years, similar efforts have led to the adoption of other symbols, including a state poultry (the New Hampshire Red) and state fruit (pumpkin).

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“They have done their due diligence that would make some of us feel bad that we don’t do our homework as well as they do,” Rep. Kat McGhee, D-Hollis, the bill’s sponsor, said of her young constituents.

While Wednesday’s presentation won praise from lawmakers, such efforts don’t always follow an easy path. In 2015, lawmakers made national news by refusing to pass a bill promoted by Hampton Falls fourth-graders designating the red-tailed hawk as the state’s official raptor. Opponents called the bill unnecessary and the bird too violent, and one suggested it would make a good mascot for Planned Parenthood because it tears its prey apart, “limb from limb.” Students tried again in 2019, and the bill became law.