It has come to my attention, as a spider living near and admittedly sometimes in your houses, that people suffer from access to too much misinformation, mainly due to the Internet. So, from one type of web crawler to another, I would like to dispel some myths, drop some knowledge and call a truce between spiders and humans once and for all. I will now attempt to count on my body the eight ways that spiders are misunderstood by humans, and provide some insight that may prove useful.
1.) I’ve Got Legs…
...and I know how to use them. All spiders have eight legs. Many people talk about the “creepy” way that spiders move. You seem fine with horses, you ADORE ladybugs, but eight legs seem to do you in. It’s all a matter of perspective. Having eight legs is difficult. Humans only have two legs and I see you guys trip over yourselves all the time. Ever seen a spider trip? Do a face-plant? Nope. Generally, when we’re walking we move our back legs first and we walk/run in a 4-3-2-1 pattern. Arachnids don’t have antennae to help sense what is in front of them, so we often use our first pair of legs for forward probing. To some people this looks aggressive, or like a precursor to a spider’s defensive stance where we raise the first two pairs of legs and show off our fangs. This is how we remind potential threats that we will bite if necessary. (Some people ignore this. But it would be like if you insisted on petting a snarling, growling dog that was baring its teeth. Spiders have body language, just like other animals. It’s just a matter of knowing how to read us.)
2.) I Spy With My Little Eyes
Not much, actually. My eyes are quite simple, and even though spiders have up to eight eyes, it doesn’t mean we can make out shapes, colors or movement. Basically, most spiders can only detect differences between light and dark. There are some exceptions. My cousin Jerry (he’s a jumping spider) got blessed with telephoto vision in his two front-facing eyes that help him with depth perception. His peripheral eyes allow him to spot movement but it’s not a clear picture. This is why when you encounter a jumping spider they always want to face you — because their main eyes provide more clarity.
For the most part, spiders “see” the world in a very different way than people do. We use the tiny hairs on our bodies to sense vibrations in the air, on our webs and on the ground. We rely on touch, chemical sensing and vibrations for hunting. Now that you know, I would appreciate it if you stop telling your friends I’m creeping you out because I’m “watching” you sleep.
3.) It’s Venom, Not Poison. (And It’s Not Meant For You.)
People are always talking about “poisonous” spiders. I have never really understood that, as most people don’t eat spiders. Here’s the deal — spiders are venomous, not poisonous. Poison is a chemical or toxin in an animal’s body that makes it unpalatable or dangerous to eat. For example, monarch butterflies are poisonous. They taste horrible and birds that survive eating one won’t risk them for dinner again. Venom, on the other hand, is a substance that either helps an animal to eat or helps an animal defend itself, usually both. Yellowjackets sting caterpillars and also warn intruders that they are too close for comfort.
You can’t “de-venom” a spider. We need our venom in order to eat our food! It immobilizes prey that is trying to get away. This is very useful. We eat insects that fly and hop. Can you imagine trying to eat a hamburger that’s trying to hop away from you? Venom also helps to pre-digest prey by liquefying it. Think of it like a bug smoothie. We need a liquefied diet because we have fangs. They are great at piercing through a bug’s exoskeleton, but they are not much in the way of chewing. So spiders use fangs to mash up the bug and slurp up the bug smoothie through a mouth opening beneath the fangs. NOTE: We do not drink blood through our fangs. We are not little vampires.
4.) Spiderman Can’t Do What a Spider Can
You’ll pay millions to go see Spiderman movies, whose webs have nothing on real spiders, but you shriek in agony if you walk face-first into my home? (Sure, it’s in your walkway, but you leave the porch light on and the moths are delicious!)
Next time, before you destroy a web, I hope you’ll marvel a bit at its engineering and the incredible silk of which it is made. A few facts about spider silk:
- Spiders can make up to seven different kinds of silk.
- Silk turns from liquid to solid when it hits the air.
- Silk has a tensile strength (amount of stress withstood before failure) stronger than steel at the same density.
- Silk has inspired fibers like Kevlar used in bullet-proof vests.
- Silk has biomedical applications like silk scaffolding for nerve regeneration and super-fine sutures.
Spiders should sue the Spiderman franchise for libel. Or royalties.
5.) “When I Was Five…”
I’m terribly sorry that one time when you were 5 years old a spider that was as big as your head (it wasn’t, trust me) jumped off a web onto you and climbed up your leg when you were asleep and this is why you hate spiders now as an adult. For one thing, there are actually very few spiders that jump. Mostly we walk or run and actually, a lot of web-living spiders are clumsy off the web. With bodies adapted to hanging upside down and tight-rope walking silk strands thinner than a human hair, our legs aren’t suited to walking on flat surfaces for very long.
A scary encounter with a spider as a child is nothing to laugh at, and some people do have legitimate arachnophobia (where you have an irrational fear of spiders). People throw that word around a lot, when they just mean that they don’t like spiders or really don’t know anything about them. Knowledge is power. If you learn about the things you are afraid of, you can usually overcome your normal fears.
If you truly suffer from arachnophobia, where someone says the word spider or can’t even show you a picture, then a professional may help you overcome your phobia. But if you can look at a cute jumping spider picture one minute and then proclaim you just don’t like the creepy small ones or the monster big ones, it’s all about having an open mind and attitude.
While we are on the subject of a spider as big as your head, the largest spider species have leg spans of about 12 inches. They are found in deep burrows in the tropics and in caves. Do you live in the tropics or a cave? Probably not. Just because that picture you found on Google Images looks like it’s a spider as long as a man’s thigh doesn’t mean it’s true. The Internet + weird photographic angles + Photoshop = a nightmare based on lies. Don’t do that to yourself. Visit sites with .edu at the end and get some factual information.
6.) Pest Control Operator
Uh-oh. It’s summertime and the mosquitoes are biting. You’ve got the citronella candle lit and the bug zapper going but still you can’t sit down on the back patio for more than five seconds without getting nailed by the little suckers. Too bad you tore down all the spider webs in the yard and under the eaves. People, people, people — we should be working together! You scratch my back and I’ll help keep you from having to scratch yours. Every day, all over the world, spiders are eating insects that bite humans: mosquitoes, gnats, midges, deer flies and even horse flies. We’re here to help. We’re like little pest control operators. I’ve heard a rumor that some kind humans name the spiders they find around their houses and thank them for eating flying, biting pests. You don’t have to go that far, but before you do something rash (like tear down my home) think about what you could gain from the relationship.
7.) Just Because I’m Brown…
…and you found me in your closet, doesn’t mean I’m a brown recluse. There are more than 3,000 species of spiders in North America and a lot of us are brown. Brown recluse (Loxosceles reclusa) are found in southern states between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains. Even in endemic areas, brown recluse bites are often misdiagnosed. In fact, lots of ailments look like recluse bites, from bacterial and fungal infections to chemical burns and allergic reactions. Medical doctors aren’t trained to properly identify these spiders and often misidentify a bite and the spider that caused it. Expert tip: recluse are some of the few spiders that have six eyes vs. eight. They are grouped two by two in a semi-circle around the head. But really, if you live outside the endemic area described previously, it’s not a brown recluse bite. It’s just a spider that happens to be brown, which leads me to point #8.
8.) Catch Me If You Can, Properly
If at this point you still don’t want me in your house, I get it. But instead of squashing me, I would prefer the ever popular “take it outside” method. Let’s go over some techniques. There are certain things that work and other things that don’t work. Things that DON’T WORK: standing on your tippy toes on an unstable chair that you balanced on a file box in the middle of the kitchen while holding a drinking glass over a spider on the ceiling. You’re starting to shake and sweat. You’re losing your balance. You don’t know what to do to get the spider in the glass. You didn’t think this through. Someone’s going to get hurt and most likely it won’t be the spider. Here is the proper spider evacuation technique (PSET). Please share with your customers! You/they will need:
- A clear container with a lid that is easy to get on and off;
- a piece of paper (preferably card stock) that is larger than the opening of your container;
- and the knowledge you gained by reading this letter.
1. Grab the container with the lid off, and the paper. Have the lid nearby.
2. If the spider is on the ceiling stand on something stable. Do not stand directly beneath the spider. This will only heighten anxiety and give you a neck ache. If the spider is on the floor, approach it gently, remembering what you’ve learned about vibrations.
3. Place the container over the spider. If you are lucky it will climb/drop onto the side. Remember — it will not bite you through the container. If the spider is still on the floor/wall/ceiling, this is where the paper comes in. Slowly slide the paper between the container and the surface the spider is on, being mindful of trapping legs. If the spider isn’t budging gently nudge it with the paper. It will move away from this response. The trick is to keep a nice seal with the container.
4. Now the paper becomes the temporary lid! If you’re ready and feel secure just take the spider outside with the paper covering the opening. Put the container on the ground and uncover it. Allow the spider to leave. Try not to shake the container while screaming as this negates all the cool points you just earned from using the PSET. If you feel like you want a heartier barrier between the two of you, place the lid on top of the paper and slowly pull the paper out, making sure the spider isn’t dragged along. Now take it outside.
5. Grab a drink, call a friend or brag on Facebook that you conquered your fear!
An anonymous spider on behalf of all spiders that have ever lived*
(*That’s a lot because we’ve been on the planet for about 400 million years and spiders can have lots of babies during their lifespan. Deep breaths.)
Editor’s note: Kristie Reddick may have helped the spider write this letter. Reddick is one of The Bug Chicks, a team of entomologists on a mission to change the way people feel about arthropods. She is an award-winning lecturer, educational media specialist and researcher. As a Bug Chick she is dedicated to showing young girls and boys that women can be smart, silly, successful, brave and beautiful in many different ways. Learn more at http://thebugchicks.com.