Debunking Common Spider Myths

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The mere sight of a creepy crawly spider scaling a wall or lurking in a webbed corner can give people the heebie-jeebies— but why? Over time, myths and misconceptions about spiders have evolved throughout many cultures, resulting in a multitude of terrified reactions to this extremely common pest.

Debunking Common Spider Myths

While spiders can be a nightmare for homeowners, especially during the colder months, most species are nothing more than a source of unexplained fear. From common myths to weird and wacky misconceptions, the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) has debunked a few well-known legends about this eight-legged arachnid and detailed the truths behind them.

Myth #1: The average person swallows about eight spiders a year when sleeping.

  • This urban legend has become one of the most widespread rumors on the Internet. But, fear not – it’s false. According to Snopes.com, this myth was started when a columnist for a computing magazine wrote an article in 1993 about a list of outlandish “facts” that were circulating via email. In an effort to show that people will believe anything they read online, the columnist made-up some of her own ridiculous facts, including the myth sited above. In reality, it’s highly unlikely for a person to swallow even one live spider when sleeping.

Myth #2: People are never more than three feet away from a spider.

  • This myth originated in 1995 when arachnologist Norman Platnick wrote, “Wherever you sit as you read these lines, a spider is probably no more than a few yards away.” With more than 35,000 described species of spiders worldwide and about 3,000 in North America alone, there may be some truth to this statement. However, many people argue that it depends on where you are. For example, if you are standing in a grassy area, there is likely be a spider crawling right next to you, but if you are on the top floor of a skyscraper, the nearest spider could be hundreds of feet away.

Myth #3: All spiders spin webs.

  • Many people associate spiders with webs, but the truth is not all spiders spin these silk structures, which are used to catch their prey. In fact, several species of spiders use different strategies for obtaining food. Wolf spiders, for example, catch their food by hunting, while jumping spiders pounce on their prey.

Myth #4:Daddy longlegs are one of the most poisonous spiders, but their fangs are too short to penetrate human skin

  • Daddy-long-legs are the subject of many urban legends. This specific tale has been lurking around for years, but it’s completely false. Think about it – how can a spider inject venom into the human body if its fangs are too short to pierce skin tissue? Arachnologists at the University of California said, "There is no reference to any pholcid spider [read "daddy-long-legs"] biting a human and causing any detrimental reaction… Furthermore, there are no toxicological studies testing the lethality of pholcid venom on any mammalian system.” Simply put, there no facts to support this widespread legend. If you’re still not convinced, Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage even debunked this myth in 2004 on their popular show, “ MythBusters”.

Myth #5: All spiders are dangerous.

  • Spiders have lived amongst humans for centuries and most species don’t harm humans; in fact, many species are beneficial to the environment. Spiders are predators, feeding mainly on insects, so they help to reduce the amount of pests in homes and gardens. While it’s true that all spiders have a venomous bite, only a few species are medically dangerous. In the United States, the widow spiders and the recluse spiders are the only groups that pose a health threat to humans. And, contrary to popular belief, most tarantulas are harmless.

If you believed any of these spider myths, you’re not alone. There are many misconceptions about spiders that give them a bad rap. However, it’s important for homeowners to take preventative steps to keep the more dangerous species from gaining access to homes during the winter months. The NPMA recommends storing clothes and shoes in plastic containers, sweeping away webs around the home, and removing clutter from basements, attics and garages. If you suspect a spider infestation, make sure you contact a licensed pest professional to treat the pest problem. For prevention tips and additional information on spiders, visit PestWorld.org.

 

Sources:

http://insects.about.com/od/noninsectarthropods/f/daddylongvenom.htm

http://www.burkemuseum.org/spidermyth/index.html#toc

http://www.snopes.com/