Fear of spiders is common. Arachnophobia – a very intense fear of spiders – is less common, but still prevalent.
But is it justified?
It’s difficult to pinpoint why people fear spiders, but the best theory has to do with ancestral memory (a fancy way of saying ‘instinct’). Spiders were probably far more dangerous to our ancestors long long ago, without modern medicine . This theory hinges on a psychology term called preparedness, which describes our evolutionary predisposition (again, ‘instinct’) to fear things dangerous to us. It explains many commonplace phobias, including those of snakes, heights, the dark, deep water, etc.
All those things pose a threat to us, or at least posed a threat to our early human ancestors when we developed the instinct to fear them.
So yes, fear of spiders is definitely justified.
However it’s becoming less and less necessary: modern medicine’s advent has rendered most spider bites a nuisance at best to us. And yet our instinct to fear spiders, although diminished, has continued to ride our genes down the ancestral highway.
So although it was justifiably developed, our fear of spiders is no longer relevant – at least in BC. However, if you live in Australia or South America or Africa, maybe keep that fear of spiders closer to your heart.
There are three main spiders commonly feared by residents of BC, and I’m going to tell you the important basics about each of them. Spoiler Alert: they’re not as bad as they seem.
Have you ever been sitting on your couch, watching TV, reading a book, or just relaxing, when suddenly a large brown blur scurries across the floor and disappears from sight underneath the couch? You probably just saw a Wolf Spider. These hairy brown beasts are known for their speed and their unique hunting style among other spiders. Rather than building a web and waiting for their naïve, juicy prey to come to them, the Wolf Spiders hunts their food and chases them down. Thanks to their size, they’re able to take on a large menu of other insects to eat, from ants to crickets to other fairly sizeable spiders. Thankfully, humans are NOT on that list.
Bites from Wolf Spiders are rare, as they will only do it if backed into a corner and provoked. That plus there aren’t many situations they come into contact with humans; Wolf Spiders spend most their time in dark, underneath-things places, and are nocturnal so they prowl the open hallways when you’re safely tucked in bed. But even if they do happen to bite, their venom is not lethal. It causes swelling, itchiness, and irritation. However, you should still see a doctor if you’re bitten by one, because research is inconclusive on the extent of the effects of Wolf Spider venom. While some people have attributed some deaths to Wolf Spider venom, other research has shown otherwise.
But Wolf Spiders are more friend than foe because they play a very important role – they eat the pests and the not-so-nice insects. They even keep Hobo Spiders away.
It’s best to leave Wolf Spiders to their work because they will do a lot of pest control, however if having one in the house makes you uncomfortable, the best thing to do is put it outside – just don’t kill it. If you see a Wolfie, just grab a glass and a piece of paper, trap it in the glass and the floor, and slide the paper under. Pick up the glass, keeping the paper firmly against the opening to keep it trapped, take it outside, and let it go. Wolf spiders like the warmth of our houses, however, so don’t be surprised if it sneaks back in every now and again.
Ah, the Hobo Spider. Notorious for being an introduced species1, having deathly venom, and having a kinda funny name. Also generally thought of as aggressive spiders (often called an ‘aggressive house spider’), partly thanks to a misinterpretation of a part of their Latin name, agrestis, which was misinterpreted as aggressive, but really translates to ‘field.’ These spiders come from Europe, where they’re considered non-aggressive spiders, and, you guessed it, live in fields! They tend to pop up in human habitats, but not as much as you might think.
Now everything above is true except for them having deathly venom: that is a misconception. Many cases of spider bites that have been considered medically important have been attributed to Hobo Spiders, but without sufficient evidence to back it up (the sample spider that did the deed was not found or provided). There are no verified cases of Hobo Spider envenomations in people. The jury is still out on the extent of damage a Hobo Spider bite can cause someone, and that’s mainly due to the extremely low occurrence of bites in the first place.
Hobo Spiders spend most of their life on a web close to the ground, out of sight. They don’t do much except wait around for bugs to land in their web, and they definitely do not seek out human flesh. It is only in the fall – when the male Hobo Spiders leave their web to search out a female to mate with – that it might be more common to see one scurrying across the floor, or – better yet – trapped in a sink or bathtub and unable to climb out.
These arachnids are no reason to cause alarm, however if you think you may have been bitten by one, it’s best to keep an eye on the bite and see a doctor.
If you’re wondering about “introduced species,” that’s just a term given to any species that originates in one area and then spreads to a new habitat it previously didn’t inhabit – usually through human involvement. too! The Hobo Spider managed to cross the ocean by riding barges transporting crops.
The Black Widow is probably the most dangerous spider in North America, having venom potent enough to kill the young and elderly; however, only a very nominal percentage of reported bites have been proven to be fatal. Young children less than 40 lbs and elderly with immune disorders are most susceptible to the venom. In adults, however, the venom is far less than fatal.
Black widows are, so far, the only spider of concern on this list, and although they may not be fatal to adults, their bites can cause a lot of pain. If you suspect a bite from a Black Widow, immediately seek treatment from a doctor.
Following the trend of the spiders so far, Black Widow bites are far less common than most people think. They aren’t aggressive; they will only bite in self defense when backed into a corner, provoked, or squished.
Black Widows stick to dark places, wooded areas, small crevices, etc, and many bites are purported to occur from people grabbing wood from a woodpile without proper preparation. Wearing gloves usually eliminates that risk.
Brown Recluse Spider
This guy’s name is often spoken with a hint of fear and awe at the power of his venom. Well, surprisingly, just like with most spiders, there are actually a lot of misconceptions around him. These non-aggressive spiders are less venomous than the Black Widow spider, yet probably feared more. News and media often perpetuate false myths about these guys by showing swollen, blackened hands, or something similar to that, and attributing it to the Brown Recluse Spider. As such, there is so much more danger associated with them than they deserve.
As with all the spiders so far, they are timid and actively avoid contact with humans, unless pinned down in which case they can bite.
But none of that matters. The absolute kicker about these spiders is: they don’t actually live in Canada at all. They’re entirely restricted to the southern US. People all over Canada claim to have been bitten by them, and yet there have been no verified, proven identifications of the spider north of the American border.
So if you live in British Columbia and still think spiders are fearsome creatures, well, hopefully some of these facts can put your mind at ease. Their main source of food is the bugs that actually bother us. They have proven themselves to be far more helpful than detrimental to us, and cause no need for concern.
Final Fun Facts:
– Medically significant events are caused by dogs at more than 60 times the amount of medically significant events caused by spiders
– There’s an urban myth that’s something like “people swallow seven spiders a year in their sleep,” and that is entirely bogus
– Spiders are everywhere. There’s some truth to the adage that you’re never more than 3 feet away from a spider at any given time. While not entirely true, it captures the idea that spiders are far more abundant than you think!
Solid Sources for your Continued Education:
Sources of Photos:
Black Widow: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/thunder-bay/family-finds-black-widow-spider-in-bag-of-grapes-1.991572