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Spiders: Fact and fiction

Spiders: Fact and fiction

Who hasn’t heard a scary story about spiders? Their mysterious habits, their sometimes strange appearance and our fertile imaginations often make us forget just how useful and fascinating these creatures are. Before we go any further, we should clarify that spiders do not belong to the same group (class) as insects; they are arachnids, a class that includes ticks, mites, scorpions and more. So here are a few myths about these misunderstood arachnids—and the truth.

Do spiders sting?

Of course not! Spiders don’t have stings. However, they do have fang-like chelicerae, which they use to paralyze their prey. Most spiders capture their prey by biting. But no need to worry—they have no interest in us. And even though they are often blamed for the slightest sore or redness on the skin, specialists agree that it is best to remain sceptical without proof.

Is it true that each person swallows eight spiders in their sleep every year?

This urban legend is persistent and exists in several forms—some versions cite a different figure, while others give a weight to describe the amount of spiders we swallow in our lifetime (e.g. a pound). In fact, the chances of you swallowing just one spider in your lifetime are minuscule, never mind eight per year! Even if you were to sleep with your mouth wide open, spiders—no matter how small they may be—will not end up in your mouth because there is nothing to attract them.

Are tarantulas deadly?

Cut! Despite what you might see in horror movies, tarantulas are among the least dangerous spiders in the world! The venom of spiders in this family (Theraphosidae) has a localized effect. Furthermore, when they do bite humans (a rare occurrence), the result is almost always a dry bite (without venom). In fact, only about 50 species of spider may be considered dangerous to humans—out of 40,000 species, that is hardly the majority!

Do sun spiders attack camels and soldiers in the desert?

Halt right there! The legend of the sun spider—also called the camel spider—appeared in 2004. It all started with a photo taken at a deceptive angle, so it looked like the creature was as big as a human leg. The beast supposedly bit camels and soldiers while they slept, administering a strong anesthetic. When the victim woke up, a big chunk of flesh was missing! Solifugids—to give them their proper name—rarely measure more than 8 cm long and do not inject anything when they bite! They are voracious predators but very rarely attack anything larger then themselves. They also shriek when they feel threatened—which many people would find unnerving! However, despite all the stories surrounding them, solifugids pose no threat to humans.

Some amazing facts about spiders:

  • There are 677 species of spiderin Québec. Of these, none are considered dangerous to humans.
  • Special hairs on spiders’ legs (trichobothria) react to air currents of just 1 mm/s.
  • Spiders are the most numerous of terrestrial carnivores.
  • Nearly two dozen types of spider venom are being studied for medical applications such as treatment for epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease and strokes, and as a painkiller.
  • In case of danger, spiders’ first reflex is to flee!
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