Sunday, December 30, 2012

Spider Sunday: Top Spider Hoaxes, Urban Legends, and Myths

I swear, sometimes I feel the “Spider Sunday” feature on my blog is a completely useless exercise. There are so many recurring hoaxes and urban legends about spiders that raise their ugly heads again and again and again,…now spread even faster through social media! Thank you so much, Facebook. Please feel free to share this post the next time you see an idiotic spider hoax surface. Here is my list of the worst of them, in no particular order.

Lethal spider species lurks under toilet seats. What anyone would have against the lovely and completely harmless Two-striped Jumping Spider Telamonia dimidiata is beyond me, but it is the chosen villain in a sinister campaign to scare everyone off of toilet seats in airports around the world. The original version blamed the non-existent Arachnius gluteus spider. The name alone should have tipped people off as to the authenticity of the reports (and made wise people smile and chuckle).


Daddy Long-legs (Harvestman)

Daddy long-legs are the most venomous spiders, but they can’t bite people. First of all, “daddy long-legs” are not even spiders. They are arachnids, but in the order Opiliones and more properly called “harvestmen.” They are not venomous at all, and are mostly scavengers and opportunistic predators on weakened insects.

The average human swallows “x” number of spiders per year in their sleep. This is complete bunk (but I did once wake up with a dead German Cockroach in my mouth).

Somebody’s houseplant cactus explodes, liberating baby tarantulas. Really? Tarantula mothers don’t stick their eggs in cacti. They carefully wrap them up in a silken sac and guard them tenaciously at the bottom of their burrows. Once the eggs hatch, the female continues to guard them until their next molt, at which time they disperse.


Baby Tarantula

The “Hobo Spider” is dangerously venomous. This is false, but also an enduring mystery. Tegenaria agrestis is native to Europe where it is most certainly harmless. Individual spiders from populations introduced in the U.S. have been implicated in necrotic wounds. One plausible theory is that victims of spider bites (or other puncture wounds wrongly attributed to spiders) have developed secondary bacterial infections. Stay tuned for further developments.

The above are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, of course. A more complete listing can be found on Rod Crawford’s Spider Myths Page. When in doubt yourself, you can also consult Snopes.com, or one of the other websites cited in this article from TechRepublic.com.

Thank you for your attention, we now end this rant and return you to your regularly-scheduled programming of truth, fascination, and beauty.

15 comments:

  1. yay! I seem to spend a lot of time trying to convince people of these (though I hadn't heard the toilet seat one, and always thought the cactus must have been near a momma wolf spider)

    My biggest pet-peeve along this line is a Mythbusters episode my kids like that was supposed to prove that daddy long legs are not all that dangerous, which used cellar spiders instead of harvestmen. grrr...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ooh, interesting theory for explaining the exploding cactus! I'd add the possibility of a green lynx spider, too. They frequently suspend their egg sacs in a web amid cactus pads....I once saw an episode of Infested that substituted cellar spiders for Brown Recluse spiders. I understand why, but....

      Delete
  2. I'd be delighted to have one of my cacti explode, liberating hundreds of baby tarantulas. Mexican red knees (Brachypelma smithi), please.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha! Yeah, that *would* be kinda cool, actually :-)

      Delete
  3. I really enjoyed that Eric, thanks !

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you for this. Spiders need to be understood and appreciated :)
    Demaris McNamara

    ReplyDelete
  5. The Daddy Long-legs one is interesting. I grew up with Daddy Long-legs being Cellar Spiders, so I found it really strange to find Americans seem to think of them as Harvestmen. Here in the UK it usually refers to Crane Flies, so we end up with a whole bunch of people thinking Crane Flies are incredibly venomous!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Excellent point! That is why "common names" are so dangerous. One name can apply to several unrelated organisms, depending on which country or part of a country uses the name.

      Delete
  6. HaHa, the other day I read about a new species of spider that was "just discovered" in the Amazon rain forest which is so intelligent that it uses bits of leaves and dead insects to make larger replicas of itself to ward off predators...Oh, sure. Tell me another one!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That one is actually true! Check it out, from Wired: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/12/spider-building-spider/

      Delete
  7. I'd never heard of Arachnius gluteus before. Very funny!

    The other night I was lying awake in the semi-dark, hoping to get to sleep, when a little spider let himself down from the ceiling onto my nose. By the time I'd got the light on, he was gone. I didn't swallow him, nor inhale him, but I think I'd rather swallow dozens of spiders than one German cockroach.

    Happy 2013!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Happy New Year to you, too, Susannah! Thanks for sharing your own story :-) Fortunately, I didn't *swallow* the roach....

      Delete
  8. It's a pretty standard experience for an Australian to encounter a redback spider (Latrodectus hasseltii) around/on an outdoor toilet seat. So much so that Slim Newton has a classic country ballard about it.

    There was a red-back on the toilet seat
    When I was there last night,
    I didn't see him in the dark,
    But boy! I felt his bite!
    And now I'm ere in hospital,
    A sad and sorry plight,
    And I curse the red-back spider
    On the toilet seat last night.

    And there'll be daddy long legs as well - which to us are common true spiders (Pholcus phalangioides) and which can eat other spiders, including the humble redback.

    ReplyDelete