No anthropophagy among spiders, yet. That we know of.

I thought you might want to know that Spiders feeding on vertebrates is more common and widespread than previously thought, geographically and taxonomically. Not that I want you to worry or anything, but you should know that vertebrates like you are prey to certain spiders. (Not you, personally, of course — just your smaller, weaker cousins.)

You might be wondering who the killer spiders are, and you’re in luck: here’s a table of the spider families that will kill your relatives.

Frequency distribution of 39 spider families engaged in vertebrate predation based on cummulative literature data (source: McCormick & Polis 1982; Brooks 2012; Nyffeler & Kno ̈rnschild 2013; Nyffeler & Pusey 2014; Nyffeler et al. 2017a, 2021; Nyffeler & Vetter 2018; Weisberger 2019; Nyffeler & Altig 2020; Reyes-Olivares et al. 2020; Fulgence et al. 2021; Nyffeler & Gibbons 2021, 2022; Google Scholar & Google Picture Survey for Sparassidae feeding on vertebrates 2021). The ten spider families Atracidae, Theridiidae, Pisauridae, Ctenidae, Theraphosidae, Nephilidae, Araneidae, Lycosidae, Sparassidae, and Trechaleidae are the most prominent vertebrate-eaters (combined 91% of a total of 966 recorded incidents). *The number of records for Atracidae (n 1⁄4 20) presented here is an underestimate [The atracid Hadronyche formidabilis must be considered to be a habitual frog-eater due to the fact that countless frog bones had been found in funnels of this species which not could be taken into account in this graph (McKeown 1952)].

See? No worries. You probably don’t even recognize most of those names.

I’m here to inform you that the number one culprit, the Theridiidae, also known as the tangle-web spiders or comb-footed spiders, are also among the most common house spiders. The spiders I raise in large numbers in the lab, the Steatodas and Parasteatodas and Latrodectus, all belong to this family, and I’ve long noted their ability to bring down animals much larger than themselves with their potent venom and most excellent cobwebs.

Not you, of course. You can continue to sleep well at night, knowing that the spiders living in your attic and basement are not going to eat you. Not unless they grow significantly larger, or form significant and numerous cooperative colonies.

My spiders do get along well with each other, so there are possibilities…

If you doubt me, here are some spiders eating birds, bats, frogs, fish, and snakes. Yum.

Examples of habitually vertebrate-eating spiders – A. Argiope aurantia Lucas, 1833 feeding on a female ruby throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) in front of a house in College Station, Texas (Photo by Donell S. Frank). B. Nephila pilipes (Fabricius, 1793) feeding on a small bat (superfamily Rhinolophoidea) entangled in the spider’s web; incident observed at the top of the Cockatoo Hill near Cape Tribulation, Queensland, Australia (Photo by Carmen Fabro). C. Megadolomedes australianus (L. Koch, 1865) (Pisauridae) feeding on a Graceful Tree Frog (Litoria gracilenta) in Barratt Creek, Queensland, Australia (Photo by Barbara Maslen ‘‘Wild Wings & Swampy Things Nature Refuge, Daintree’’). D. Adult male of Ancylometes sp.(possibly Ancylometes rufus (Walckenaer, 1837)) caught a characiform fish (Cyphocharax sp.) near Samona Lodge, Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, Ecuador (Photo by Ed Germain, Sydney). E. Adult female black widow (Latrodectus hesperus) feeding on a subadult coral snake Micruroides euryxanthus (Elapidae) near the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Superior, Arizona, USA (Photo by Lawrence L. C. Jones).

But don’t worry, they aren’t eating people yet!

Nyffeler M, Gibbons JW (2022) Spiders feeding on vertebrates is more common and widespread than previously thought, geographically and taxonomically. Journal of Arachnology 50:121–134.

The tastiest part of a cockroach is its heart

I did not know this. Being a giant relative to cockroaches, I’d only imagined mashing the whole animal into a pulpy mass between my molars, but apparently, with a lesser size difference, one can be a connoisseur of the flavors of different meats in the prey animal, and appreciate the subtleties of the meal. As the emerald jewel wasp does.

And so, in another attempt to win his students’ attention, the scientist set out to film an emerald jewel wasp larva as it feasted on the cockroach from within.

“That’s the way science often unfolds for me,” said Dr. Catania, the author of “Great Adaptations.” “I’m looking at something out of curiosity, or art.”

This is how he ended up capturing the larva’s taste for cockroach heart. But he made an unexpected discovery: After eating the heart of the cockroach, the wasp larva started gnawing at its quarry’s trachea, the insect equivalent of lungs. This caused air to leak out of the cockroach’s respiratory system and into its body cavity, air that the wasp larva then eagerly slurped up.

In other words, the emerald jewel wasp both eats the cockroach’s heart out and takes its breath away.

After performing the experiment two dozen times, Dr. Catania was able to show that not only do the air bubbles allow the larva to breathe while fully inside the cockroach’s body, but they also give the little hell-raiser a metabolic boost. Once the air bubbles appear, the larvae start to chew faster, which Dr. Catania documented this year in a study published in the journal Current Biology.

Now that’s an interesting twist. When you’re head first in the gooey, slimy, liquid interior of the victim you’re eating, respiration becomes a problem — so you suck air out of its respiratory system. Brilliant! I’ll remember that next time I dive into the body of an animal 50 times my size.

There’s a video if you’d like to see a living cockroach heart get eaten by a wasp. It’s cute and heartwarming.

Vignettes from home school conferences


If you want to know why America is getting stupider, read these short accounts of incidents at home school conferences. The author has to go to these events — she’s selling materials to teach feminism, but of course she can’t mention feminism. She gets nauseous every morning before hitting the aisles at the thought of the rabid Christian/conservatives she has to be nice to.

One sample:

I am in Texas, my home state. A mom wanders in, picks up a journal, and reads about Kate Warne, the first woman detective.

“Where do you do your research?” she asks. I give her several sites. “That’s good, that’s good,” she says.

“Now then,” she begins again, “what is your slant?”

“Slant?” I ask.

“Which way do you lean?”

“Just historical facts,” I tell her.

“OK. But listen, I need you to do something for me.”

She reaches out and takes my hand. Apparently we are best friends now.

“Write about Biblical characters,” she says. “We need that. Especially the men.”

I tilt my head to the side.

“Well, we focus on actual women from history,” I say.

Wrong answer.

“Well, I will have to think about this.”

She drops my hand. The friendship is over.

Keep in mind that Ken Ham is the king of homeschooling. The dreck that floods these conferences is guaranteed to degrade the quality of the homeschool experience.

Note: I am not dead set against homeschooling — some homeschooled kids emerge from the experience with great educations. But it’s really, really hard, they are the minority, and the majority of homeschooled kids are there entirely because their parents are ignorant and don’t want their kids to be smarter than they are, and the schooling is often driven by religious fanaticism. Or nowadays, weird political fanaticism. MAGA parents don’t want their kids exposed to Liberals and Socialists and Ideas.

I would never have homeschooled my kids, because my wife and I don’t know enough. And we both have PhDs!

Halloween colors

I’ll start with a jack o’ lantern designed by Iliana. It’s a cat. I think the dead flowers around it makes for a pretty picture.

So we went on a drive to Wisconsin. On the Minnesota side, we’re clearly past the fall color peak, with mostly brown and barren trees, but the Wisconsin side…wow. Bright reds and yellows everywhere. If you want to see the autumn colors, now is the time to make the Sunday drive over there.

However, those aren’t the colors I’m talking about here. There’s a different stark difference between the two states: Minnesota was boring, empty highways along the route, but once you cross the state line, it’s animal carcasses everywhere. Every few miles there was a huge splash of rusty red splattered across multiple lanes, and then ten or twenty meters further on there’s be a horribly mangled dead deer, skin peeled off by the tumble, split in half with beige guts drooling out and drying on the shoulder, lying in an urecognizable pose. Ick.

Drive on further, there’s another bloody brown corpse lying in a heap.

A couple of miles on, fragments, shattered limbs, a head lying on the road with it’s tongue hanging out and drying.

It was very Halloween. The evidence of violence was horrific. These animals weren’t just knocked down, they were smashed and splattered. The cars had to have been totaled by the collision, too.

The difference between Minnesota and Wisconsin was stark, and had me wondering what was the cause.

Are there just more deer wandering alongside the highways in Wisconsin?

Are Wisconsinites simply far worse drivers?

Then I started thinking that maybe it’s a difference in highway management.

In Wisconsin, the highway patrol comes across yet another collision with a deer. They call for an ambulance for the dazed driver, a tow truck to drag the wreckage away, and then the cop takes a pair of meathooks out of his trunk, and drags the broken corpse out of the right-of-way and leaves it to rot on the highway shoulder.

In Minnesota, the highway patrolman calls the dispatcher.

“Hey, Madge, it’s a bad one. I got a guy staggering around, I don’t know whether his head is always shaped like a lumpy potato, or if he got banged up bad in the crash, so better get an ambulance out here just in case. Call Ole’s Towing and let him know there’s a crumpled Dodge Ram out here that he can scrap.”

“Oh yeah, also call the Cleaner and get the Meat Wagon here pronto before it goes bad. Nice little 8 point buck here, it’s a real shame. Tell him it’s a powerwashing job.”

“How about them Vikings, hey? Did you and Bob watch the game…[conversation continues for 20 minutes before he signs out]”

Anyway, we have lots of deer and bad drivers on this side of the border, so I imagine the difference has got to be in our diligence in doing road clean up. In Wisconsin, they seem to leave the blood and guts out as Halloween decorations.


It really is Autumn. We got home from Wisconsin and Mary decided this was the moment we need to tear up her garden. She was right, it’s looking pretty dead with rotting tomatoes and eggplants, with a few healthy pumpkins scattered around.

She was less concerned about the garden than she was this patch — those are gigantic sunchoke stems so large that they’ve started falling over.

So we pulled them up, and what we found were dense masses of tubers.

We filled up a couple of ten gallon buckets with these things.

They better taste good — we’ve never had them before, but they’re supposed to taste like sweet potatoes? Maybe? Mary grew them, so now it’s my turn to cook them.

The Golden Crocoduck

These creationist goobers are worse than low-hanging fruit — they’re rotting on the ground and indistinguishable from the droppings of frugivores — but a good debunking with evidence is still entertaining and informative. Potholer54 has given out his annual Golden Crocoduck award, and I can tell it was a difficult choice. So many amazingly deserving twits, and he has to pick just one!

This year, it goes to Matt Powell, because not only is he a gibbering fool, but he is blatant in his dishonesty.

For next year, though, I would like to nominate Eric Hovind, who has gotten positively hyper on social media lately, and is flooding Xitter with the most stupid assertions, which mostly seem to have been stolen from Harun Yahya’s Atlas of Creation. Copying your homework from one of the most clueless creationists on the internet (or, now, in a Turkish prison) is a truly stupid move, Eric.

Learn to love your spiders!

Well, this is discouraging.

Scientists asked almost 1,800 people to rate 25 species of animals according to how much fear and disgust a photo of each one elicited. The spider got equally high rankings for both fear and disgust from more people than any other animal. The spider was also deemed the scariest and nearly the grossest as well.

I find myself snuggled up in the top right corner of that chart. No wonder nobody likes me.

But there are some words of hope.

Ecologist and self-proclaimed spider ambassador Bria Marty tested whether learning about spiders can change how people feel about them for her master’s thesis project at Texas State University in San Marcos. She recruited college students to find and identify spiders using an illustrated guide and then upload photos to iNaturalist. Marty, currently a PhD student at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, surveyed participants before and after the activity, and one thing jumped out: Afterwards, people reported being far less likely to react negatively to a spider. “Doing an activity like this really does help a lot around fear,” she says.

This kind of change has been known to happen to iNaturalist users, says Tony Iwane, the platform’s outreach and support coordinator and a self-described spider lover. He pointed me to a thread on the site’s discussion forum about how contributing to iNaturalist helped people overcome their fear of spiders, with users sharing the “gateway spider” species that changed how they felt. For @mira_l_b, it was the particularly tiny Salticid (jumping spider) species Talavera minuta. “If I am finding myself confronting life-long fears and cooing sweetly to tiny Salticidae,” she wrote, “then there’s hope for us all!”

The author is advocating a big spider counting exercise for everyone, which sounds like a good idea to me. Except this is not the best time of year for it — spiders are making themselves scarce right now, hiding from the winter onslaught, but you can still find lots of spiders in your houses.

So go find them and say hello!