Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mythbusting, arthropod style

I get questions in my inbox sometimes, being the "spider girl" and all. Besides "WHAT IS THIS?!" with an attached photo, urban legends are probably the most common. Other times, I get asked in person or it comes up in conversation. I'm like a magnet for ridiculous arthropod claims.

Maybe this will help. In no particular order, here are a few answers.

The female black widow spider does not always eat her mate.

The praying mantis can, in fact, copulate without decapitating her mate. (However, she does seem to quite enjoy the practice. My husband is SO not allowed to balk at my mood-setting preferences anymore.)

No, that's not a spider bite. It looks like you scratched the top off a mosquito or ant bite, and it got scabby and infected. Quit doing that, and you'll be fine. Here, my son uses these Transformers Band-Aids when he has trouble remembering.

Falling asleep with candy in your mouth isn't too bright, but it certainly won't make ants burrow into your brain through your ears. You don't have to worry about earwigs either. I think you're thinking of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

The daddy long-legs does not "have the most potent venom to humans, but its mouth is too small to bite humans." They're not venomous. Still, how would we test this, exactly? Extract the venom and kill a bunch of people on purpose?

Camel spiders (solpugids) are not two feet across. They do not "run screaming like a baby," nor do they eat camels from the inside out. They are not venomous. Also, I'm pretty sure they are the least of our soldiers' worries overseas.

No, that's not a spider bite. It looks like you pinched yourself in the car door.

No spider ever laid eggs in someone's skin, mouth, or beehive hairdo. Spiders are not waiting in airplane toilet seats to bite your butt.

Millipedes do not have a thousand legs. If it's roundish and has two pairs of legs per segment, it's a millipede.

For the love of god, it's venomous. Poisonous is when it's ingested or inhaled. Venom is injected into your bloodstream or deeper tissues. Most venom isn't even poisonous. And I am picturing you eating spiders when you say they're poisonous.

No, I don't think that's a spider bite either. Did you see what bit you? No? It probably wasn't a spider. And it definitely wasn't a black widow if it was daytime, you were in an open field, didn't reach beneath anything, and didn't see a web. And (for locals) it definitely definitely wasn't a brown recluse. We don't even have those here.

I don't know how many spiders the average person swallows in a year or a lifetime, and neither do you. That "statistic" was invented to see how far a bunch of gullible idiots would spread an idiotic claim with no evidence whatsoever.

Killing praying mantises isn't a crime, but you'd better not. I'll be sad and my son will lecture you forever if we ever catch you.

No, that's probably not a spider bite either.


Carole DeAngeli said... Best Blogger Tips

Great post. Amazing, isn't it, the things people actually believe. And thank you for making the point about venomous vs poisonous. Even knowledgeable people who should know better make this mistake.

Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) said... Best Blogger Tips

Hee! Love this post! I keep tarantulas and the comments I get are amazing. My favorites are the ones that infer I'm putting my kid in danger. In reality, even if the tarantulas DID bite him, it would be like a bee sting. So, um, if he's allergic to bees, maybe he's in danger. I guess. *shrugs* Besides, I only keep tarantulas with low bite reports. Bah.

Christina Wilsdon said... Best Blogger Tips

The dang factoid about the average person consuming x spiders a year because they crawl into sleeping people's mouths makes it SO hard to Google anything about spider feeding habits--you have to do advanced searches using the ".edu" limitation to find what you need or else you get nothing but trivia sites repeating this fact! As if spiders would've survived as a species if they went trooping into cavernous maws nightly...Fun post.

Oh, but can you look at this owie on my arm? I think a spider bit me before I swallowed it last night.

Kim Hosey said... Best Blogger Tips

Thank you, Carole. Yes, it is remarkable the things people will believe, with no evidence or credibility whatsoever. Venomous vs. poisonous has been a long-standing, one-woman battle of mine. Glad you concur.

I love that you keep tarantulas, Kelli! Yes, not particularly dangerous at all. As to "endangering" your kid via animal encounters, I feel your pain:

Christina, ha. Probably not a spider bite. :-) And yes, you're totally right about idiotic nonfacts polluting Google. You learn how to filter out known nonsense, and you get better at recognizing new nonsense. And there's always new nonsense.

Tara C. Smith said... Best Blogger Tips

Love the spider bite comments! The spider bite thing is a pet peeve of mine as well.

rjblaskiewicz said... Best Blogger Tips

But which spider is the tastiest?

Madkins007 said... Best Blogger Tips

Poison vs. venom. I feel your pain, I really do, but if we are going to get technical, ALL venoms are a subset of poisons.

Poisons are "A substance that, when introduced into or absorbed by a living organism, causes death or injury, esp. one that kills by rapid action."

Venoms are a "Poisonous fluid secreted by animals such as snakes and scorpions and typically injected into prey or aggressors by biting or stinging." Key word here- 'poisonous'.

It drives me crazy that we use the word 'poison' as both the generic term, and as the term for poisons taken by mouth, etc., but we are sort of stuck with this.

I'm a 'tortoise' guy, and we use the word 'turtle' commonly to describe the entire family of shelled reptiles, and specifically for the shelled reptiles that live a mostly aquatic life. Same basic issue, same annoyance.

Anonymous said... Best Blogger Tips

Regarding toilet spiders (not on planes though)...I'm curious if you could debunk or confirm if this video is real:

evodevo said... Best Blogger Tips

I LOVE this blog, even though I am in Ky and the author is in AZ. As someone who is always having to debunk something or other to do with animals/plants - whether for students, co-workers, friends - it is an amazing source. Keep up the good work !

Lady Arachnophile said... Best Blogger Tips

Loved it!! A facebook friend shared your post and I saw a spider in the thumbnail (I love spiders), so I clicked and read it. So glad I did! Like you, I receive constant emails with questions like "is this gonna kill me?!"... "I got bitten by a Brown Recluse" (from people in states where they don't even exist), etc etc. This is an excellent blog post and I will be sharing it on our company's facebook wall ( Thanks for this!
The only very tiny correction I'd like to add is that the "daddy longlegs" *is* actually venomous. ALL spiders are, except for those in the family Uloboridae which lack venom glands. You mentioned something about how we would ever test it... the crew on the Discovery Channel's 'Myth Busters' did actually test it: (if you skip to about 6:30 in the video, it shows the spider actually biting him and he says he felt a tiny burning but it was gone within seconds).

Lady Arachnophile said... Best Blogger Tips

Hmm, just realized that my comment about "daddy longlegs" depends on whether you mean the actual spiders (family Pholcidae) or if you mean the "harvestmen" in the order Opiliones, which are not actually spiders. Too many things are nicknamed "daddy longlegs!" (spiders, harvestmen, & crane flies) It gets confusing, lol. So, my comment was in regard to the actual spiders.

Iconoclast said... Best Blogger Tips

Excellent post.

It's scorpions, at least in South Florida, that like toilet seats, and I've only personally noted them hanging around in camping area portapots and water-flush outhouses. They generally hang around for water from the tank or condensation, and it makes a convenient hiding space from the sun. Most campers know to check the area before dropping trou, and only a few imported species are actually dangerous.

Michael said... Best Blogger Tips

Nice post! Camel spiders are neither dangerous nor venomous, and humans have nothing to fear from Camel spiders. The hoax about how dangerous Camel spider bites are is purely an anecdote. Although a bite is probably painful, only the bacteria in its mouthpart will be capable of hurting you. See more:

Sandy said... Best Blogger Tips

That was a mind opener! * Grins
i guess many people that reads this was corrected. Whatever their kind is I still hate spider no offense on that. Anyway I like your article it has sense and I enjoy reading it. :D

Kristen said... Best Blogger Tips

This is educating our self what is the difference of venomous and poisonous. Some has confusion on their mind. Thanks for sharing your thought. :D

Anonymous said... Best Blogger Tips

We do have brown recluses here. My brother was bit by one on his thumb. What they said is so many people moved here and they where brought in on people's stuff!