I’d say you can stop asking me these questions now, but I know they’ll continue

I’ve noticed that there are two kinds of responses people make when they learn I’m studying spiders. 1) They tell me about the terrible spider bites they’ve been getting lately, and 2) they ask if it’s true that people swallow thousands of spiders while sleeping in their lifetime. At least now I can cite this definitive response from Andrea Haberkern in answer to the first. Spiders have no interest in biting anyone!

Bite Post FAQs
1. Can anyone tell me what bit me?
Doctors nor entomologists nor arachnologists can ID bites from a bite alone in the majority of cases. There are likely a handful of exceptions, as in the case of some tick bites that have signs but overall this is not the case. So, if a someone tells you “it’s a spider bite” or “it’s a recluse bite” without seeing the animal itself do the biting, chances are it is something else entirely …but, more on that later…

2. What can we do about this bite?
First and foremost- this is a nature appreciation group, not a medical advice group. Medical advice is not allowed by any members. No members, to my knowledge, are medical doctors. If you or a loved one is suffering negative effects from a bite, please seek medical attention.

3. Do you think a spider bit me?
No. The reason for this is boils down to basic spider biology. I would venture to say that the vast majority of “spider bites” are something else entirely. I think many people believe that spiders go around biting sleeping people, falling from trees just to bite you or are sneaking around looking for their next tasty human to chomp on. I’m assuming the reason this is such a common misconception is likely due to a lack of understanding of what these animals are all about. So… spiders evolved venom to eat insects and other small prey. They use it to immobilize their prey. Just like it takes your body a tremendous amount of energy through food intake to conduct daily activities, it also costs spiders a lot of energy to produce this venom. Why would an animal that needs a substance to eat go around wasting it on mammals when it has nothing to gain for it? It wouldn’t. Now, I’m not saying spiders never bite. Any animal with a mouth can bite. If you grab a spider, I bet it will bite you- just like if you grab a squirrel it will bite you. But I don’t hear anyone saying squirrels are jumping into peoples’ beds while they sleep just to bite them. So why spiders? Spiders will bite in self-defense, but just to add to the unlikelihood of being bit by a spider- most species will do several other defense tactics before resorting to biting. These tactics include: fleeing, playing dead, threat displays, falling to the ground, kicking silk at you and, in some species, throwing poop at you. Biting is an absolute last resort, again because venom is energetically costly and its main purpose is to eat not defense, so you practically have to force a spider to bite you. Just to drive the point home even further- I would place money on the fact that I am likely one of the only people in here who has actually been bitten by a spider. But put that into perspective- I have to manhandle, harass and grab spiders, literally thousands of times, for my work…but even still- I’ve only been bitten a dozen or less times out of thousands of rough handling… I’ve deserved it every time. So, no, I don’t think a spider bit you. Even in cases where a spider was in the general vicinity… false blame is likely to blame.

4. So if a spider didn’t bite me what did?
There are literally hundreds if not thousands of other animals (and plants) that are more likely to have bit you or caused you skin irritations. These include anything that does either directly feed on us or uses bites/irritations as a defense. Examples of organisms that are a way more likely culprit for your skin issues include, but are not limited to: some midges, chiggers, mosquitoes, poison oak/poison ivy, horse flies, sand flies, fleas, stinging nettle, ticks, assassin bug defensive bites, conenose bugs, ant/bee/wasp stings and even some plant/fruit eating bugs that will take the occasional nibble.. etc. etc.

5. But but but I saw 2 puncture holes in my skin, it had to be a spider….
This is a myth. I think it comes from a common misunderstanding of spider mouthparts. Most people assume that all spider chelicerae (fangs) face downward like that of a tarantula and therefore cause 2 bite marks. This is not the case. Only the Mygalomorphs (tarantulas, trapdoor spiders and Aussie funnelwebs) have their mouthparts oriented like this. But seeing that tarantulas and kin are much larger spiders- I think you would physically see if one bit you. So, when someone says “I know this much smaller spider bit me even though I didn’t see the spider because I have 2 bite marks” … there several reasons why this is not the case. First, most spiders’ mouthparts are oriented to meet side to side not parallel facing downward (if the visual is too hard to imagine google image search “Mygalomorph versus Araneomorph mouthparts”) So, if one bit you, a single puncture would be more likely from where the 2 fangs meet. Next, if there were 2 bite marks in the skin caused by a spider- this would have to be a BIG spider for them to even be visible- I highly doubt a spider of that size is capable of sneaking in, biting you without you seeing it, then sneaking away in the night to leave you with only 2 little vampire marks as “proof”. Many many insects will bite multiple times in a localized manner, and considering how much more likely insects are to bite humans than spiders in the first place, that again is more likely your little biting friend.
Spiders rule,

As for the second question…no spider would blithely crawl into a large carnivore’s mouth. Do you also think hippopotamuses lounge about complaining about all the humans who wandered into their gullets while they were sleeping? No. The whole idea is nonsense, and I’d really like to know where that myth started. I’ve been surprised at how many people ask me if it’s true that people swallow 8 (or some other number) spiders a night, when only a moment’s thought would tell you it’s absurd.

P.S. I’ve never been bitten by a spider, but then I only work with little house spiders. They’ve also never leapt into my mouth.


  1. etfb says

    My wife got bitten by a spider, but that qualifies as one of the “deserved it” situations. We live in rural Tasmania, and this was the one time she went to put on her gumboots without checking for inhabitants. The bite was more surprising than painful, I gather, and led to no particular long-term effects.

    Well, none apart from that she now climbs walls and has super strength, and is planning to join the Avengers as soon as the borders re-open. But no MAJOR long-term effects.

  2. Ben Wright says

    The spider-swallowing myth was cited as an example of the sort of ludicrous fact that people would trip over themselves to believe, even though it couldn’t possibly be true, and to prove the point got immediately propagated.


    As for how the original myth got started, my money is on some prankster in antiquity teasing an arachnophobe of their acquaintance.

  3. mandarb says

    Reminds me of Spiders Georg
    “average person eats 3 spiders a year” factoid actualy (sic) just statistical error. average person eats 0 spiders per year. Spiders Georg, who lives in cave & eats over 10,000 each day, is an outlier adn should not have been counted


  4. R. L. Foster says

    Funny thing about the reference to double puncture wounds. A few years ago I went through a period when I would awake to find what looked like mini vampire bites on my body. I had them on my neck just above the collar bones, a couple on my forearms, one on the back of my right foot just above the heel. They were all about the same size — the two punctures were almost exactly one inch apart. No blood, no swelling, no itching. I showed one to my doctor and she had the same explanation given here, that an insect, probably a mosquito, fed twice at the same location. Maybe. I remain unconvinced. Our bedroom is not a haven for spiders so I think they can be safely ruled out. The world is full of small mysteries.

  5. doubter says

    Poor spiders. You’re ambling along, minding your own business, when a shadow falls over you. You look up. A slab of meat the size of a football field is falling from orbit, and it’s aimed directly at you.

  6. says

    My guitar teacher in college told me of being drunk at a party when HE was in college, and loudly announcing that he’d eat anything he was offered. Someone brought him a spider; he swallowed it, or attempted to. “I felt a little pinch in the back of my throat,” he said, “and then everything got hazy and I woke up in the hospital.”

    Apparently spiders + beer + testosterone are a bad combination. Who’da thunk it?

  7. bcwebb says

    I still would love to know what crawled up my pants while I was raking in a pile of leaves years ago and stung or bit my on the thigh, resulting in me taking my pants off outdoors and fleeing across my lawn in my underwear. Fast appearing, massive slightly ulcerating welt that took weeks to heal. A bee or wasp seems unlikely as I didn’t see anything and there were no others visible. Spider also seems unlikely. My guess is some kind of centipede?

  8. fernando says

    Everyone knows that spiders are the spawn of Ungoliant.
    Not even the Devil likes them: just ask Morgoth about it!

  9. Callinectes says

    I expect you to report each time you get bitten, with pictures. Observing the progression of a genuine spider bite would be momentarily fascinating.

  10. anxionnat says

    I’ve worked with tarantulas over the years in several settings, and if they’d tried to bite, I’d’ve known it. No, they didn’t. I think you’re right about biting–it’s defensive, not because you are being hated on. The same thing goes for snakes. I live in coastal California, and our only local species of rattlesnake is the California Black. Since European settlement began here in the late 18th century, this species has never been implicated in a death, at least that I know of. That’s partially because individuals of the species are Californians, so they are–y’know–mellow, but also because their venom isn’t all that dangerous, compared to other rattlesnake species. And, yes, I’ve handled them. They seem to like nothing better than to snuggle up, wrap themselves around your waist, anchor their tails in the belt loops of your jeans, and just mellow out. So, nature, even venomous species, aren’t out to getcha.

  11. ORigel says

    Once I was destroying an anthill and an ant bit me on the lip. I instinctively bit my lip and swallowed the ant. It tasted like dirt.

  12. Artor says

    Thanks to a persistent mis-identification, I have handled dozens of brown recluse spiders with my bare hands over the years. Never bitten once.

  13. anchor says

    I vaguely remember an episode of the Andy Griffith Show in which Gomer Pyle, whilst examining the skin on his hand, suddenly exclaims to Barney Fife after the two had been espionaging through what he imagined to be spider territory: “[Look!] Spodder baht!”

  14. evodevo says

    The little house spiders I have around are almost invisible lol – and when I do see them, in the midst of cleaning or whatever, they are invariably running like bats out of hell away from me and the cleaning rag….our problem around here is overwintering polistes wasps – now THAT will wake you up in the middle of the night boy howdy…

  15. lochaber says

    I don’t even like spiders, and I’ve long been skeptical of “spider bites”

    When I was enlisted, it was really common for people to get diagnosed with Brown Recluse bites. In coastal North Carolina, in the Mojave, and in Okinawa, none of which are in the known range of Brown Recluses…

    And that “swallowing spiders” bit… I’ve burnt some social group bridges by arguing with people who try to make that claim…

  16. Oggie: Mathom says

    I have been bitten by a spider once. And I deserved it. A brown tarantula. Which was on my shoulder as I walked into the visitor center at Grand Canyon to scare visitors. I did not get bitten when the screams started. I did not get bitten when my friends dad came out of his office to tell at me. I got bitten as I tried to pull him off my shirt. He was hanging on quite tightly. Bit my finger. A sweat bee sting hurts much more. I pulled this a dozen times or more and only got fanged once. And there was only one puncture mark.

  17. says

    I was bitten by a venomous spider just recently, the Katipo spider in New Zealand. It had made its home in the sleeve of a jacket which I put on and became aware of irritation then pain all the way up my arm. I took the jacket off, turned the sleeve inside out and there it was. These spiders are extremely rare and endangered. Considering that there are almost no dangerous creatures in NZ, I was extremely unlucky to find its most venomous creature in this way.

  18. neptis says

    I’ve always been told that most of the smaller spider species aren’t even able to pierce the skin. So here in Central Europe, there are maybe 5-10 species whose bite you will notice at all, and of those only a few with a bigger effect due to venom (like a bee sting).
    Because of that, I’ve often just caught and picked up spiders with my bare hands to move them out of the house and stuff like that. Only time I ever felt a bite was when I saved a drowning Tegenaria silvestris, but those are pretty big.