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The Myth of Spider Bites

This one time….

Whenever the topic of occupations comes up, the mention of my being an entomologist spurs the telling of spider bite stories that either happened to the sharer or some close relation of theirs. Despite spiders being arachnids and falling slightly outside of my typical insect realm area of expertise, I spend plenty of time dealing with them and do my best to keep up to date on research and findings in the spider world. My first question tends to cause a quizzical look, but is in fact relevant: “Did someone catch the spider in the act?” I think the assumption is that I am playing with them or making light of a serious situation that landed someone in the emergency room in a near death, don’t-walk-toward-the-light situation.

David vs Goliath

Centuries of fears about spiders have caused societies across all culture lines to exaggerate the abilities and aggressiveness of spiders. The truth is spiders are regular living things that have great survival instincts. They know where to spin their webs to catch their food, they know what to do when the slightest vibration touches their web, and they know what to do if a hungry predator lands near their web: run and hide! In observing tarantulas, they will quickly attack something smaller than the size of their abdomen as they know they can safely consume it and get a tasty meal. When faced with a larger option that outsizes its abdomen, they realize that they cannot consume it and know that it is more of a threat than an opportunity. When it comes to a David vs Goliath situation of spider vs human, the spider does not reach for its sling and stones, but runs and hides.

But I see them run at me….

There are many spiders when discovered in a cabinet or corner of the house that will move toward a person. The reason for this is much less for attack than it is for the only path of escape. Spiders have eyes that can see in multiple directions at once and when they see our gigantic bodies threatening them, they also see the walls that block off retreat. Climbing is useless since we tower above them so the only hope for escape is between our legs and off the other direction.

Do They Ever Bite?

Yes, spiders will bite if cornered or threatened. A spider is still more likely to try and escape, but if it gets trapped by a blind hand reaching into a dark garage shelf or a foot sliding into its amazing boot hiding space, it may bite. Those of us that spend time handling a myriad of different types of spiders know that we have to really work to get a spider to bite us.

One Myth leads to Another

The fear of spiders has led to many myths about dangerous species such as hobo spiders, brown recluse spiders, and black widow spiders. Most of these myths include descriptions of spiders being far more aggressive than they ever could become, venoms being more powerful than something out of a Spiderman comic, and spiders being found hundreds of miles outside if their natural habitat. Although spiders are able to get shipped around in today’s day and age with ease, most do not set up shop on moving things and do not thrive when introduced into a habitat that is not ideal. Many of the reports of brown recluse in the northern US and hobo spiders being found outside of the Pacific Northwest tend to be misidentifications.

But I’ve seen the bites

There are so many things that look exactly like a spider bite such as insect bites, arthropod stings, chemical burns, allergic reactions, MRSA or other infections. In a medical situation, the treatment for many of these things is similar or the same and the best solution is to provide treatment without arguing with the patient. If arguing with a patient isn’t going to change the treatment options, it is best to provide the treatment and move on to the next person waiting in the ER.

What to do

The best advice is not to fear spiders and not to adhere to the myths. There are many things that can be done to provide control of spider populations and stop them from showing up where you don’t want them. Just call one of our specialists and we will provide you with the help you need.