The truth about spiders is that they are more closely related to ticks, scorpions and fleas than insects. Nearly all spiders are poisonous, although some species’ venom is only barely toxic. The silk spiders produce to make their webs is the strongest-known natural fiber on the planet. The tensile strength of a single strand is greater than bone and about half as strong as steel. Many misconceptions and urban myths exist about spiders. Which are true and which are not?
Spider Myths: Separating Fact from Fiction
For many of us, spiders are creepy crawlies we’d much rather avoid. This may be why there are many myths about spiders. Let’s take a look at some of the more common superstitions about these eight-legged animals.
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Are Brown Recluse Spiders Deadly?
Of the 4,000 known spider species found in America, there are a few many of us are familiar with by name. One is the brown recluse spider, probably because it is one of the most common species and is one of the most poisonous spiders found in the U.S. Perhaps this is why there is a myth that brown recluse bites are fatal. The truth is there has never been a verified reported death linked to the bite of a brown recluse.
Just because no one has died after being bit by a brown recluse doesn’t mean their bite can’t be painful and even dangerous. In extreme cases, the wound can produce a lesion that takes 6 to 8 weeks to heal. In many cases, spider bites are misreported, particularly brown recluse bites, either because the irritation a person experiences wasn’t caused by a spider at all or because it was a bite from another type of small brown spider. The best way to tell if a spider is a brown recluse is to count the number of eyes it has, which you won’t likely do, as many people don’t observe the animal, but instead, notice the irritation after being bitten.
If you’re worried about brown recluse spiders sneaking up and biting you, that is highly unlikely. Brown recluse spiders are not aggressive and normally only bites when being handled, disturbed or crushed. As their name implies, these spiders are shy would prefer hiding from humans rather than biting them.
Are Tarantulas Poisonous?
It’s easy to understand why you might assume that tarantula bites are deadly. After all, these big, hairy spiders could star in a horror movie. Although tarantulas do have fangs and venom, their bites are about as painful as a bee or wasp sting. Contrary to rumor, there have been no recorded deaths from tarantula bites, although in some cases, tarantula bites can trigger an allergic reaction which requires medical attention. Sometimes, even if you aren’t bitten by a tarantula, you can experience an allergic reaction as the spider’s urticating hairs brush against your skin and cause irritation by your lips, tongue and eyes. In some cases, this irritation can lead to rashes, swelling and even problems breathing.
Do Spiders Lay Eggs When They Bite You?
You’ve heard the story about a friend of a friend of a friend who knows a girl whose sister got bitten on the face by a spider. Weeks later this same sister was walking around the mall when that swollen zit on her face exploded and hundreds of baby spiders came scurrying out. The same story that always ended with your friend saying, “I swear it’s TRUE!”. Well, it’s not. This is an urban legend that has been around for years and has no basis in reality. So don’t worry, teenagers. That bump on your forehead is really just a pimple.
The truth is that spiders typically lay their eggs in a silk-wrapped cocoon which they guard until babies emerge. The human body is not a place spiders want to lay eggs. Moreover, spiders don’t have the necessary anatomy to inject eggs into bite wounds.
Most importantly, spiders don’t seek out humans to bite, nor do they feed on human blood, as mosquitoes and bed bugs do. So it’s highly unlikely that a spider will bite you as you are sleeping, unless you move around and bother one. Even in that case, a spider’s fangs don’t stick up. Since they point downward, you are more likely to accidentally squish a spider than to have one bite you.
Can You Swallow a Spider in Your Sleep?
Many spider myths involve sleeping, and one is that the average person swallows eight spiders while they are sleeping every year. As with the other urban legends about spiders, this is highly unlikely. First of all, spiders avoid humans, if they can. To a spider, the movements and sounds of a sleeping person would be enough to keep them away. For a spider to enter your mouth, you’d need to be sleeping with your mouth open, which probably means you are snoring, which would very likely scare a spider away. Lastly, many of us would wake up if we felt a spider crawling into our mouth and over our face.
It is possible that a person could unknowingly eat a spider, but the chances of this happening more than once is very slim.
Are Camel Spiders Dangerous?
During the Iraq war, rumors circulated about gigantic spiders chasing U.S. troops around the country. Camels spiders are fast (a few have been clocked around 10mph), but none are in danger of violating the speed limit in a school zone. The urban legend also purported that these creatures ate camels’ stomachs and sleeping soldiers. These myths were perpetuated, thanks to chain emails.
Camel spiders can grow to be six inches, although photos which circulated on the Internet made them appear much larger. These nocturnal animals feed on bugs, lizards, small birds and rodents but pose little threat to humans. Camel spiders avoid the sun during the day, so what was interpreted as chasing soldiers may have actually been camel spiders attempting to enjoy the shade of a person’s shadow. Similarly, this type of spider might be associated with a camel because it finds shade under its stomach, not because it jumps up and eats a camel’s stomach.
Are Daddy Long Legs Fangs Too Small To Bite?
Another urban legend is that daddy long legs are the world’s most poisonous spider. First of all, we need to clear up a misconception: there are actually two completely separate animals with similar names. Daddy-longlegs in the order Opiliones are usually referred to as harvestmen and can usually be found under rocks and logs. Humans don’t usually run across these types of spiders because of their preferred habitat.
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The second type of animal belongs to the Pholcidae family and is also known as cellar spiders to reflect where you are most likely to find them. Harvestmen do not have fangs or venom, so they cannot be poisonous. Cellar spiders do have short fangs because of their anatomy, which resembles how a pair of tongs comes together. Brown recluse spiders are similar and of course, that species can bite humans. Although there are no recorded cases of cellar spiders biting humans with ill effects, it may be possible, although cellar spiders wrap their prey and brown recluse spiders need more developed musculature to subdue their prey. Therefore, this myth has no scientific basis.