Out of all the terrifying creatures that live on this planet, spiders tend to rank among the most feared and despised of them all. They have all the attributes of a ‘creepy crawly’ that make 99.9% of the human population either want to run away from them or kill them (usually with fire). They have eight legs, many eyes, many of them spin webs and catch other animals in them, most tend to move quite quickly, all of them are venomous, and some can kill a human being with a single bite.
You don’t have to look very far to find people sharing their fear/hatred of spiders on the internet. On almost any image board or social website, whenever there’s an image, video or GIF of a spider or anything spider-related (superhero comics excluded), you’re likely to find people commenting on the lengths they’ll go to kill the thing or a witty ‘NOPE’ reaction. While a lot of things tend to get embellished or exaggerated on the internet, our fear of and/or morbid curiosity about spiders remains the same.
As the most dominant species on the planet, we like to think of ourselves as the smartest and most important species on the planet. We like to pretend that nothing can harm us, certainly not a tiny little spider. But nature has a way of giving most creatures some benefits to offset their losses, and in the spider’s case, it tends to make up for its small size with some of the most impressive and disturbing set of attributes of any animal species on the planet.
In the article ahead, we will look at just what makes spiders so unique (and also terrifying), and why they should be treated with respect. So the next time you try and kill that spider staring at you from the ceiling, you may want to put on some medieval armor, because that might be the only thing that’ll save you.
15. Spider Silk Is One Of The Strongest Substances On Earth
Many people have felt that nerve-wracking and uncomfortable experience of walking through a spider web accidentally. It triggers a strong response from most people (partly because it feels weird, and partly because no one wants to get bitten by the spider), but what most people tend to forget is how strong that substance is.
Many scientific studies have been done on the physical properties of spider silk, and the results are quite astounding. In terms of strength, the silk can be as strong as alloy steel. Single strands are flexible enough to stretch up to five times their original length without breaking. Finally, in terms of toughness, there is one particular species of spider that produces silk so powerful that a single piece of its silk is said to be ten times tougher than a similarly-sized piece of Kevlar.
14. Tarantulas Can Release Urticating Hairs
One of the most commonly-feared spider subspecies are the tarantulas. Not only do they have all the attributes of normal spiders that make them terrifying, but they have the added bonus of also being hairy. Their bodies are covered in hair, turning them into the hideous love children of traditional spiders and Cousin It from The Addams Family. They also tend to be bigger and bulkier than regular spiders, so that makes them even more terrifying in the eyes of many.
In terms of behaviour, however, tarantulas tend to be less aggressive than other spiders, which make them more popular than other spiders in the exotic pet trade and easier to handle. But one must be very careful when handling tarantulas (implying that one ever would actually do such a thing willingly and without being under the influence of some really powerful alcohol). While tarantulas can bite when provoked, the effects of their bites are no more harmful than that of a wasp sting. What really makes tarantulas dangerous are urticating hairs.
If threatened or annoyed, a tarantula will raise its abdomen towards the threat and use its back legs to brush off those hairs in the direction of that threat. Like the spines of a porcupine, these hairs/bristles can get stuck in the skin, mouth or eyes of anything that bothers the tarantula. In the case of them getting stuck in the skin, a common way to remove the irritating hairs is to use duct tape and rip them out, like a waxing gone terribly wrong.
13. Spiders Are Milked For Their Venom
Due to the power of their venoms, and to the different chemical mixtures found in said venom, many spiders are actually milked for their venom. Just like with snakes, these spiders would be kept in research labs, and on occasion would be milked for their venom.
But unlike snakes, which can be milked by simply making them bite a fake layer of skin and getting the venom to leak down into the bottom of a container, milking a spider is a much more complicated process. In order to get the spider to produce venom, it has to be given a mild, non-fatal electric shock, and then the venom is collected in a tube. This process is made even trickier because the spider then vomits from the shock, and the vomit can dilute the venom, so the spider’s mouth must be cleaned and the vomit removed in order to ensure the venom sample isn’t diluted.
This is a very dangerous and labor-intensive process that requires a lot of time and patience. To produce three ounces of venom would require anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 separate milkings, with each one requiring immense precision to avoid being bitten by said spider, or killing it, the latter of which would possibly require collecting new specimens, which can never be a fun endeavor.
12. Spiders Can Eat Prey Much Larger Than Themselves
For the most part, spiders prefer to eat prey smaller than they are. It doesn’t make sense for those predatory spiders that seek out their food to try and chase down something that might be too much for them to handle. But there are other cases where the opposite has occurred.
Many spiders spin large webs in order to increase the chances of a prey item getting caught; the larger the web, the greater the chance of this happening. At the same time, if the web is larger, it can also catch bigger animals. There are stories abound of spiders catching animals in their webs that normally wouldn’t be on that spider’s prey list. Birds, bats, larger insects, frogs, even lizards and snakes have ended up trapped in a spider’s web.
In such a scenario, the spider would simply encase the hapless animal in even more silk (which, as mentioned above, is an incredibly powerful substance), before using its venom to further subdue the animal.
11. Spiders Liquefy Their Prey
Although spiders have fans for injecting venom, they don’t have developed mouths or digestive systems meant to process solid food. As a result, they can only consume liquid food, which means they have to dissolve their solid prey into liquid.
To do this, many spiders release enzymes from their digestive systems onto their prey. Once these enzymes come into contact with the item, it slowly begins to liquefy, allowing the spider to consume its food as a liquid without needing to chew or crush the solid food.
In this respect, spiders don’t actually eat the entire bodies of their prey. They simply liquefy the best parts of those animals and drink them like they would a soup. The rest, meanwhile, is discarded like garbage. Many spiders simply tie the remains up into a ball of silk and toss it away.
10. There Are Over 45,000 Different Spider Species
The oldest known fossil of a spider ancestor is believed to be around 420 million years old. Given that age, it isn’t surprising that spiders have evolved over time to become one of the most biologically-diverse species on the planet.
Spiders live on every continent except Antarctica, and come in many shapes and sizes. The smallest spiders are believed to be less than 1mm in diameter, while the biggest ones can grow to have a legspan around 30 centimeters long. Spiders come in different colors and markings, with some coming up with impressive evolutionary traits (e.g. spiders resembling ants, spiders with markings resembling bird droppings, etc.). Some spiders even develop different behaviour or hunting patterns, such as jumping spiders or ogre-faced spiders (the latter being those spiders that spin a tiny web in their front legs, wait for an insect to come by, and drop the net onto that creature).
9. Many Species Of Spider Can Kill A Human Being
Spiders can be dangerous creatures when encountered. While most of them prefer to save their venom for the animals they feed on, they can and do bite in self-defense. Though the overwhelming majority of spider venom isn’t that harmful to humans (save for some mild pain, discoloration or illness for a short time after said bite), there are many species of spider that pose enough of a threat to humans that their bites require immediate medical attention.
Black Widow Spiders are common perpetrators for spider bites given their nature of spinning webs in dark places or near wood, especially near outhouses. Similar species like Redback spiders and other widow spiders are also dangerous enough to warrant trips to the hospital in the event of a bite.
Other dangerous species include Brown Recluse Spiders, which are very dangerous in the United States because they’re often found in dark areas inside peoples’ homes, such as in dark corners, under beds or inside shoes. There are also different kinds of Mouse Spiders, Sand Spiders, and other species that pose a serious risk to humans as well.
8. Spider Venom Can Have A Wide Variety Of Symptoms
Again owing to their considerable biodiversity, the symptoms of a spider bite can vary greatly depending on the spider, including degree of pain. Many spiders use neurotoxins to attack their prey’s nervous system, and this approach translates into bites on humans. Anything from sweating, irregular heart activity, muscle spasms, and difficulty breathing can occur from such bites, with untreated ones leading to potential cardiovascular collapse. In other cases, temporary paralysis and long-term nerve damage can occur.
Recluse spiders, a.k.a. violin spiders, carry hemotoxic venom which can cause severe damage to red blood cells and necrosis of the skin (WARNING: seek out pictures of such things at your own risk). If left untreated, this severe necrosis can lead to the amputation of limbs (which, going back to the main point, is from a spider bite).
Of course, most if not all spider bites share one thing in common, and that’s that they can cause severe pain. For most spiders, the degree of pain is based on the size of the spider’s fangs; but in some cases it’s more about what comes out of those fangs. Many chemical compounds found in spider venom affect serotonin levels in humans, mixing up pain signals in the human brain. As a result, many spider bites will hurt much more than the damage they cause with their bites.
7. Social/Communal Spiders Are A Thing
Welcome to an Arachnophobe’s version of Hell.
Although primarily solitary creatures, some spider species choose instead to live in large colonies in the same way as insects do. In these circumstances, thousands, of spiders can come together and inhabit a single area, creating one large spider web that can cover an enormous area.
In other circumstances, such as in the event of a natural disaster like flooding, spiders will escape en masse and move towards a higher altitude and make new webs in that safer area. As more individual spiders move in, more and more space becomes entangled in spider webs, creating something out of a low-budget animal horror movie.
This has already happened on a few occasions. Earlier this year in Tasmania, millions of spiders covered a small area due to flooding, turning green fields into a silken nightmare. It also happened in Memphis in November 2015, and in Cape Breton, Canada the year before that, where countless numbers of spiders came together and started weaving a giant collective web.
6. Sydney Funnel Web Spiders Can Pierce Human Toenails
It’s a known fact that many of the world’s most dangerous animals live in or off the coast of Australia. While Australians have enough problems to deal with due to sharks, crocodiles, jellyfish and snakes, their problems are compounded with a spider that’s referred to locally as ‘the toe-stabbing spider.’
The Sydney Funnel-Web spider has the bulky build of a tarantula only without the hair or the more docile temperament. It is a highly aggressive spider that becomes even more temperamental during mating season. When that period begins, males start wandering about looking for females, increasing the likelihood of them encountering other creatures, including humans.
And when these encounters do happen, they can be downright terrifying.
Despite their size, these spiders are quick and can lash out unexpectedly. Unlike many spiders, whose fangs are made for horizontal biting, these spiders have fangs that curve downwards, allowing them to use gravity and downward momentum to deliver powerful bites. This, coupled with their aggression, leads to extremely painful bites, and sometimes the spider will bite multiple times in quick succession. In other cases, the spider will bite so hard that it won’t let go until you use force to pull it off.
5. You Do NOT Want To Cross Paths With A Brazilian Wandering Spider
As we have seen so far, spider bites have a wide variety of symptoms and consequences, making some species more dangerous than others. But the Brazilian Wandering Spider (whose scientific name is Greek for ‘murderess’) takes the cake as the one spider species you never want to encounter.
First of all, these spiders are aggressive; instead of trying to flee when surprised, they raise their front legs and make threatening gestures when cornered. They’d rather fight than flee. Second, they get their name for their wandering habits. They don’t spin webs or ambush unsuspecting prey- they seek it out instead. This causes them to cross paths with humans more frequently than other spiders, especially since they tend to enter peoples’ homes looking for food or shelter. As a result, they are found throughout South America, in pretty much every country on that continent.
Third, this species is considered to be the world’s most venomous spider in terms of amount of venom injected in a bite and in terms of potency. Its venom is a powerful neurotoxin that messes with natural serotonin levels in humans, causing considerable pain. The venom has an added side effect in males: it can cause priapism, which leads to incredibly painful erections that will not subside for hours.
4. The World’s Largest Spider Is Also Crazy Fast
Up until 2001, the Goliath Birdeater was considered the biggest spider in the world (it still technically is, in terms of mass). But then, scientists discovered a new spider in the jungles of Laos that has a leg span up to 12 inches across: the Giant Huntsman Spider.
Now found in many different parts of the world, these spiders are known for their speed (which, when coupled with their aforementioned size, makes many people reach for their brown pants when they see one). Because of its crab-like legs, the Giant Huntsman can move side-to-side and in general can move much more quickly than most spiders. Though not particularly dangerous in terms of venom potency, these animals will defend themselves if cornered, especially if it’s a female guarding her eggs. Be prepared for this animal to either run across the room or jump down from the ceiling…onto you!
Catching one is extremely difficult; if you try and catch it in a plastic container, it will dart across the wall/floor/ceiling with incredible speed and you’ll find yourself reaching for the flamethrower in an attempt to destroy it.
3. People Eat Spiders
There are some people out there who would try and eat anything. These people might want to travel to the more tropical parts of the world, where people eat spiders.
In places like Cambodia, Thailand and Venezuela (where the delicacy may have resulted from difficult regimes and a short supply of other, more appetizing nourishment), cooked spider is apparently a local delicacy. There the spiders have their dangerous hairs removed before they are cooked, in a blend composed of, among other things, MSG, sugar and salt. They tend to be cooked until their legs are completely stiff, and are then served to the customer.
Unfortunately, because of a spider’s sensitive exoskeleton and overall body type, its innards cannot be removed in the same way you would for, say, reptiles or amphibians. As a result, when you eat the spider, you eat the entire spider, innards and all.
2. Spiders Can Be Found Pretty Much Anywhere
There’s an old saying that suggests “you’re never more than 6 feet away from a spider.” That isn’t an exaggeration, unless you’re in an ultra-sterile environment or if you live in one of those institutions where the four walls, floor, and ceiling are all made of sponge.
Due to their evolutionary capabilities and web-making abilities, spiders can live in almost every environment except for the Polar Regions. All they need is two or preferably three fixed points and they can spin a web to catch other insects in. Spiders can live in the darkest of caves, feeding on small insects, and it would be enough for them to survive.
They can survive in any dark environment near people, such as sheds or garages, as flies and other insects are drawn to those places just as much as they are. I even once saw a spider make its web outside the window of an office twenty-one stories above ground. Even with the wind howling, the spider’s web stayed intact and insects still managed to get caught in the web.
That said, one must never forget that spiders do play a role in their environment, no matter how terrifying they might appear. Spiders tend to eat smaller pests, like ants, termites, and other bugs that may find their way into your homes. So maybe it’s best to just let them go about their business…unless they’re venomous enough to kill you, at which point you may want to bring out the candles and bug spray.
1. Females Eat The Males After Mating
If you think you have a hard time with the ladies, count your blessings that you weren’t born a male spider.
Many animals have a degree of sexual dimorphism (physical differences between males and females), but the degree of difference is biggest with spiders. Female spiders tend to be anywhere from ten to one hundred times larger than males, making the mating process a matter of life and death. Imagine being an average man, and your desired partner is 100 times your size, and has the appetite to match. Shudders.
Many species, most notably the Black Widow Spider, eat their male counterparts once mating is completed. In many other cases, female will eat their supposed partners during the act or before it has even begun. In even more extreme cases, some spiders will tear off their reproductive organs and lodge them inside the female’s to ensure that no one else gets a try at her. Other extreme cases will include some male spider species impaling themselves on the female’s fangs so that she has enough nourishment to produce eggs.
The males of the species go through all of this, just to ensure their genes are passed down. Meanwhile, the females get the best suitors and a free meal after it’s all done. It’s a small wonder then that the Black Widow has arguably the most appropriate name of any animal species out there.