Common sense about spiders

Hey, this is the same thing I tell everyone: spiders are mostly harmless, and they’re there whether you like them or not.

Spiders are not out to get you and actually prefer to avoid humans; we are much more dangerous to them than vice versa. Bites from spiders are extremely rare. Although there are a few medically important species like widow spiders and recluses, even their bites are uncommon and rarely cause serious issues.

If you truly can’t stand that spider in your house, apartment, garage, or wherever, instead of smashing it, try to capture it and release it outside. It’ll find somewhere else to go, and both parties will be happier with the outcome.

But if you can stomach it, it’s OK to have spiders in your home. In fact, it’s normal. And frankly, even if you don’t see them, they’ll still be there. So consider a live-and-let-live approach to the next spider you encounter.

The author of that article is also one of the authors of a paper I’m citing in something I’m working on now, in which he and colleagues did a thorough, room by room search for all arthropods in houses in a North Carolina region. One of their observations is that 100% of the homes had Theridiidae (common house spiders, like the Parasteatoda I’m studying) living in them. They’re kind of unavoidable. In my own much more limited survey (we only examined garages and sheds, and only arachnids, here in the harsher environment of Minnesota), we saw some similar results: almost all garages housed spiders. The one exception was eerily meticulous, everything stored away in tidy boxes, and no cobwebs or even dust. There are people who dust their garages! Unless you are that thorough, though, they’re there. And even if you are, they’ll sneak in — later that summer, we did find a few spiders in a shed on that same property. They looked terrified. Don’t worry, I didn’t rat out that they were there.

(Note: we were pretty strict about confidentiality, all locations are encoded in a file separate from the data on spider populations. You’d have to go through two sets of paper records matching addresses with spider counts to pin an identity on the houses with the most, or least, spiders.)

By the way, I have in mind proposing a workshop to Skepticon this year, an effort to counter arachnophobia. What I was thinking is a series of staged tables, where the beginning is something like 1) coloring pages of spider drawings, with explanations of anatomy; 2) a table of photos (maybe in trading card format?) of real spiders; 3) some small, caged spiders where we could observe feeding and courtship; and 4) a few harmless spiders, like Pholcidae, where people could actually let them clamber around their hands. Participants could ease in gradually and stop where ever they feel comfortable, and see people actually interact harmlessly with spiders.

What do you think? Would you actually participate in such a thing, if you had the opportunity? What number would you stop at?


  1. barbaz says

    I don’t mind spiders in my home, but I’m always afraid they won’t get enough food sitting over my shower or in a corner behind my desk, so I usually release them when I can.

  2. voyager says

    I have no fear of spiders, but I successfully desensitized myself to snakes in a similar, albeit slower fashion. It took me over a year before I felt confident enough to actually hold one.

    How are you going to deal with all the spiders that get loose when people go ”ick” and shake them off?

  3. Artor says

    A lot of people won’t be able to bring themselves to let the spiders crawl on them. You should help by flinging swarms of spiders over the crowds. They’ll appreciate it, really!

  4. says

    Shaking spiders off is harder than you think. They leave a silk dragline attached to everything — when one falls off my hand, I just reach underneath and haul them back up.

  5. opposablethumbs says

    Had the privilege and pleasure of being allowed to hold a tarantula in my hands for a while (it was an outreach thing at the zoo; we lucked out by happening to be there on the right day. So big and ‘furry’!) so I’m just going to regret and complain that I’m on the wrong continent to get to come to your spider event.

    I am the designated remover of spiders from the bathroom and bedrooms at home, though, and I admit that I did feel more comfortable with the tarantula than I do with the house ones.

    Used to put the house spiders outdoors, but now I just put them in a quiet corner so they can go on looking after us by dealing with flies and such. Good spiders.

  6. says

    Okay. This actually sounds like a good idea but I’d probably be unable to attend.

    I have actually tried exposure therapy for my arachnophobia… controlled, professionally-led exposure therapy.

    It didn’t work.

    I have, however, reach the point where I can live and let live. And if I can’t, I look to get rid of the bugs they’re eating and let them look for buffets somewhere else. I haven’t killed a spider in… honestly I can’t remember the last time I did.

    I don’t know why I find spiders so terrifying. I honestly wish I didn’t. I do think it’s a more concentrated form of my general dislike of bugs. I can’t eat outside, for example, because of bugs. Again… I don’t know why, and it absolutely sucks. But I have genuinely tried to deal with it all to no avail.

    So yeah… I’d probably be unable to attend such a panel, sadly. That said, I hope you get it approved and it’s a success! It sounds like a great idea and, frankly, despite my arachnophobia, I’d love to see spiders become more accepted. They are actually good for our homes, and even better for our gardens.

    When I lived in New York, we realized that the presence of spiders meant we had an infestation. So we dealt with that and the spiders just moved on to greener pastures.. usually within a day or two.

    I respect spiders… they just terrify me.

  7. chigau (違う) says

    Last Fall, I moved into an apartment in a high-rise and I haven’t seen a single spider.

  8. Jazzlet says

    I’d get to table three. I tolerate spiders in my house, but draw the line on them crawling on me, which has happened, several times. Why? It’s not like I’m hosting a range of tasty snacks for spiders.

  9. Paulino says

    Please send me the printable material, I test it on my kid, and give you feedback. He’s severely arachnophobic, we live out in the country, and in the tropics you don’t have to look for spiders, they come looking for you… or at you, I don’t know.

  10. ANB says

    Last year, I lived in an old cabin in very rural far Northern California. I probably had hundreds and hundreds of these housemates. Much preferable to the scorpions that were also in abundance in the area. (Or the not uncommonly seen bear or coyotes).

  11. Ridana says

    re Table 3) Do spiders court and mate on command? It seems like you might have people waiting around for too long for something to happen. And even feeding would require you to have a bunch of boxes of hungry spiders on hand to keep things interesting. Once a spider got its meal, they’d kinda be done being watchable for the day, wouldn’t they? People have really short attention spans.

  12. lakitha tolbert says

    I think I would get as far as Table 3, before noping the hell out of there.

    I’m not sure where my arachnophobia comes from either, but it manifests itself in the form of panic attacks at the sight of them, although, I can look at them in photos, and on screens, without freaking out very much. As long as I don’t see them up close, or they’re crawling on me, I’m just fine, so I’m perfectly okay with the idea of them being in my house. I have actually reached a point where I can see them, in inaccessible areas of the house, without losing my cool.

    When we were small children I don’t have this problem, and would often pick up the tiny hopping ones that lived on our house. I thought they were really cute. I still think they’re really cute, and I’ve watched them in cartoons and videos without a problem. So I guess my arachnophobia panic attacks have to meet a very specific set of circumstances?

    #4 Artor: Pkay that’s it! Go to your room and stay there. 😄😄😄 Omg! Just the thought of such a scenario brings on deep anxiety! Stahhhhp!

  13. kestrel says

    I would participate if I were there, and I’d even do table 4 and allow spiders to walk on my hands.

    I was working in TX one year and there were a lot of tarantulas out on the desert – maybe the right time of year for them to migrate or something, I’m not sure. Someone had brought one over to where I lived and people were standing outside the door, allowing it crawl on them. I was at first horrified but watching that tarantula very carefully feeling its way forward let me see that it was not a mean or aggressive animal but was just trying to live. Yes; I let it crawl on me, too, finally. It was seeing other people do it that helped me as well as seeing the beauty and behavior of the animal.

  14. leerudolph says

    I’d go to table 4 with no hesitation, though I suspect I’d draw the line somewhere short of tarantula-sized spiders.

    On the other hand I’ve never been to any kind of “con” and am unlikely to start now.

  15. suttkus says

    I was going to say I’d start at table 4, but have something more interesting than Pholcidae. Having cellar spiders walk on me is hardly a novel experience!

    I always try and remove the large spiders from the house, but it’s hard to do it without hurting them. I’m primarily concerned with the big huntsman spiders (Heteropoda venatoria, I think) that sometimes get in here, because I’ve heard they can serious hurt cats if they get a good bite in. Also, because I like the spiders and none of them should be subjected to our cat’s brutal attentions.

  16. says

    I regularly tell people, “If you have spiders, you have bugs. Kill the spiders and you’ll have an infestation. Clean your house, and the spiders will go away. They only go where there is food.” And yet the fear of spiders never ends.