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Is there anything better than Halloween? Between costumes, horror movies, and buckets of free candy, nothing beats Halloween. You also have your Halloween staples to look forward to like skeletons, vampires, and spiders. Poor spiders, lumped in with all the things that go bump in the night. But are they really that bad? “Of course!” you think, “spiders are terrifying.” Before you write spiders off completely, maybe we can use this Halloween as an opportunity to dispel a few spider myths while rediscovering these eight-legged wonders.
You’ve probably heard the myths: a bite from a black widow can kill you or that you swallow eight spiders a year while you sleep. In fact, most of those horrifying spider “facts” posted online aren’t true. Spiders tend to get bad publicity. On top of all the misinformation out there, spiders are also faced with being the go-to creepy-crawly in numerous films and television shows. If you happened to catch the last season of Stranger Things, you know what I mean. It is no wonder that, when asked, most people will tell you they fear (or at least dislike) spiders. You may be just such a person. Maybe you even have an anecdotal reason that supports this feeling. Who amongst us has not heard about a friend of a friend’s cousin who was bitten by a spider, only to suffer some terrible medical outcome? Or maybe you awoke one day to find a grisly, red wound on your leg and were told it must be a spider bite.
Spider bites are a good place to start dispelling spider myths. First, spiders are very unlikely to bite you and even when they do it is unlikely that bite will be medically significant — baring any preexisting allergy, and of course there are a handful of species that do have medically significant venom. Spiders are often blamed for bites they did not deliver. A 2016 review of spider bite case studies performed by Marielle Stuber and Wolfgang Nentwig published in Toxin, found that only 22% of those case studies could be attributed to spiders. Meaning 78% of the time spiders had been falsely accused. Can spiders bite you? Sure, anything with a mouth can bite you, but it is unlikely that a spider would elect to confront a human head-on before exhausting all other defenses like simply running away.
If you can get past the initial “creepy factor” so many people feel toward spiders, you will soon learn that they are extraordinary creatures. Spiders are allies for humans against pest insects, making them very desirable roommates. They also play valuable roles in their ecosystems as both predators and as a source of food for birds, small mammals and other insectivores — though they themselves are not insects. Spiders have also proven to be highly successful creatures. They were some of the first animals to conquer the land and have thrived for 400 million years. Throughout that time, they have come to live on every continent except Antarctica and have diversified into tens of thousands of species, 50,400 of which we have already identified. The diversity in spiders ranges from small, colorful jumping spiders measuring only a few millimeters, to the impressive Theraphosa blondi, a tarantula whose leg span can reach a foot long and that can weigh up to 2 pounds. Not to mention that spiders possess the ability to make spider silk, a material so striking in its abilities that it has become the Holy Grail for material scientists.
So, this Halloween, let’s celebrate the wonderful, webby world of spiders. You don’t have to jump right into singing their praises. You can start by learning to love your spider housemates. Next time you find a spider in the bathtub, don’t squish him. Instead, relocate him using a cup and piece of paper to another corner of the room (or better yet behind the toilet). Or the next time you find a spider web, take a moment to appreciate the beauty and level of skill that goes into weaving such a structure. This Halloween, take some time to appreciate your local neighborhood spider species. You won’t regret it.