Calling all ararchnophobes! Christopher Buddle, a biologist at McGill university, has dispelled some misonceptions in an article, “Spiders do not bite,” published on his site Arthropod Ecology.
Well, actually, they do bite, but very rarely. And his article is limited to people living in Canada. The story is different in places like Australia!
There are a lot of misconceptions about spiders. The most common is the idea that spiders frequently bite people – they do not. Most so-called spider bites are caused by something else. Spiders generally have no interest in biting us, and would rather feed upon invertebrates. I have been working with spiders for over 15 years, and I have handled many, many kinds of live spiders and I have never been attacked by a spider.
Some of the misconceptions he notes:
- Spider bites are often misdiagnosed, and caused by thinks like ants, bedbugs, and flies.
- Some of the spiders people identify as having bitten them don’t bite at all. Taxonomic error!
- Spiders are scared of us. As Buddle notes:
“Spiders are “scared” of humans. Ok, I recognize this is anthropomorphizing things, but the reality is that if you approach a spider, it usually runs away, or completely ignores us. With the exception of jumping spiders, most spiders have very poor eyesight and respond to other stimuli (e.g., vibrations, light/dark). Humans make a lot of noise, and cause a spider’s entire habitat to shake, rumble and roll. Furthermore, spiders prefer to live in damp, dark places, and when we lift up an old shoe box, or sweep under the fridge, we sometimes disrupt a spider but if you wait a minute, they invariably run back to darkness. Spiders would rather run and hide than hang out with us.”
- There are no venomous spiders native to Canada. There are some in the U.S., most notably the brown recluse (Loxosceles reclusa), whose range is below:
But brown recluse bites are rare and, according to ABC news there has never been a single confirmed death in the U.S. caused by that spider.
- Most spiders have venom suited to killing invertebrate prey, and isn’t toxic to humans. And, finally
- Most spiders have fangs that are simply too weak to penetrate human skin: as Buddle notes:
I have held many spiders and watched as they work away at trying to bite me, but they just can’t pull it off. Our skin is generally too tough for their little, wimpy fangs.
As a graduate student at Harvard, I had a collection of live tarantulas from Central and South America, and I would handle them often and let them walk all over me. I was never bitten once, and they had fangs the size of cats’ claws.
Spiders bite when they’re threatened or disturbed, so if you see one, don’t be afraid, or kill it, but just watch it and enjoy it. Spiders are some of the most awesome creatures around, and if you leave them alone, you’ll be fine. (Note: this is not an invitation for denizens of the tropics, or Australia, to go rooting around in the underbrush. Always watch where you walk and put your hands.)
Most spiders are our friends, are biologically fascinating, and lovely to boot (take a look at these). Don’t fear them, but revere them.
h/t: Julius Csotonyi