Fear of spiders is one of the most common fears among humans. Some estimates suggest anywhere between 3% and 15% of the population suffer some form of arachnophobia. Unfortunately for those people there are about 45,000 known species of spider in the world and their density sits at around 570,000 spiders per acre. That would average out to 21 quadrillion spiders in the world. So those 3% to 15% of people have a lot to fear. And that’s just the start of it.
10. Huntsman Spiders Can Live in Communities 150 Members Strong
It’s hard to determine precisely what makes one spider more terrifying to someone than another. A few factors are usually at play. Obviously a venomous spider can instill fear as no one wants to get bit by a tarantula or a black widow, even though their bites are probably not as dangerous to a healthy adult who doesn’t have an allergy to them as most people think. But that’s just one aspect.
Two other things can really make a person with a fear of spiders grow anxious and that’s the size of the spider and the number of them. Bigger spiders are, by nature, more frightening to most people, even if they aren’t dangerous. The social huntsman spider is the best example of this.
The social huntsman is one of numerous huntsman species that live in Australia. They’re not the largest, which can sometimes grow to have a leg span of about a foot across, but they do get up to around 6 inches.
What makes the social huntsman worse to many people is the first part of the name – social. They live in colonies that can reach up to 150 members. And they like to live under and behind things – they’ve even been found behind window shutters on houses. One matriarch will rule the roost and the rest will probably be her children, living communally and taking care of each other.
The upside of the social huntsman is that, despite their size and numbers, they tend to be fairly gentle and almost never bite humans. And even if they do, they produce venom that isn’t dangerous and will typically cause no harm to humans.
9. Italian Researchers Made Super Spiders That Produce Silk Stronger Than Kevlar
You’ve probably heard that spider silk is stronger than steel and it’s true. Of course, it’s also proportionate strength so a tiny filament of web is not very strong relative to the damage you could do to it with just a finger. But it can be made even stronger. Much stronger, in fact.
Italian researchers developed a method of improving the strength of spider silk until it was stronger than Kevlar. The method for doing so was surprisingly simple as well. The researchers spritzed the spiders with water that contained carbon nanotubes or graphene flakes. The spiders would ingest the mixture since, to them, it’s just water. Then the resulting webs were tested.
What they found was that the silk, infused with carbon and graphene, measured stronger than any fiber humans had produced to that point. Tougher than Kevlar, tougher than anything.
Though spider silk is notoriously hard to harvest at any practical scale, the same researchers have also developed ways to artificially make spider silk. Once both methods are combined, a lot of new possibilities will probably unfold.
8. There’s a Finnish Museum Infested with Chilean Recluse Spiders
One thing people in the Northern hemisphere take some comfort in is that many of the deadliest spiders in the world tend to not live in the same areas they do. Many live in the Southern hemisphere or tropical and desert areas. Not all, of course, but a good number. But that doesn’t mean spiders can’t travel.
Finland is a land where you wouldn’t expect to find deadly tropical spiders but the Finnish Museum of Natural History has been plagued by the extremely dangerous Chilean recluse spider for years. More than 50 years, in fact.
No one is sure exactly when or how the spiders arrived, possibly in some fruit or wood chips that showed up in the ’60s. Getting rid of them has been an uphill battle. The infestation was discovered in 1963. Employees tried to clear them out, but every attempt was met with new spiders taking their place.
7. Spiders Seem to Have REM Sleep and Are Possibly Dreaming
Humans need REM sleep to live. That’s when we dream and our brains seem to recharge and refresh, allowing us to continue our day to day lives with focus. We still know very little about how our own brains function so maybe it’s no surprise that we’re equally in the dark about a lot of animal brains.
Research in 2022 has indicated that spiders, or at least jumping spiders, enter into what appears to be a very similar state to REM sleep. That means it’s very possible that these little arachnids are also able to dream.
These particular spiders, one of the few that many humans consider cute because of their tiny size and fuzzy appearance, have demonstrated complex eyesight and a degree of hunting intelligence as well. In fact, they can tailor hunting styles to the prey they’re after.
Long assumed to simply be a human ability, science had demonstrated REM and potential dreaming in multiple species ranging from octopus to lizards to many other mammals and birds as well. These spiders would be the first of their kind to demonstrate the behavior.
6. Some Spiders Don’t Make Sticky Webs But Webs That Snare Prey
In classic horror movie imagery, a person walks into a dark room and a sticky spider web wraps around their face. They panic and spend time trying to peel it off. In real life this may have happened to you as well because webs do tend to be remarkably sticky. If it’s the right kind.
Some spider species, like the black house spider, don’t produce sticky webbing at all. Instead, they rely on silk that is more like loose strands of wool. The cribellate or wooly silk is like a snare that tangles around the legs of its prey while ecribellate or sticky silk has a fluid that glues prey in place.
5. Some Spiders Can Trap Air Bubbles and Survive Under Water
There’s a good chance that, if you’re not a fan of spiders and you’ve caught on in the kitchen or bathroom, you tried to wash it down a sink to get rid of it. While that’s potentially a good way to eliminate it, there’s no guarantee. Especially since many spiders, even the most dangerous, can actually survive for hours in water by creating air pockets.
One species, not known to ever submerge in water, was observed to survive for a half hour thanks to air trapped in a pocket around its hairs. Australian funnel web spiders, swept up in flood waters, have landed in people’s backyard pools and survived in much the same way. Unlike the other spiders, these ones have lasted up to 24 hours. Combined with the fact they’re deadly, and Australian pools aren’t looking so relaxing.
4. Toyota Had to Recall Hundreds of Thousands of Cars Over Concerns of Spiders Leading to Accidents
If spiders caused you enough fear and anxiety, you could always pack up and drive off to somewhere else. Unless maybe you drive a Toyota. The company had to recall 800,000 cars once back in 2013 because there was a risk of the airbags deploying for seemingly no reason. There was a reason, of course. The reason was spiders.
The recall affected numerous models including the best-selling Camry and others like the Avalon. The problem was the air conditioning in the car was at risk of leaking internally. If it leaked, it could damage sensors which interfered with how the airbags operate, essentially shorting them out and causing them to go off at any time with no warning.
So, if we backtrack to the air conditioning, Toyota explained how the leaks could potentially start. Spiders like to build their webs in any place that seems like prime real estate. If a spider built a web in the AC condenser, that webbing would clog the system. The condensation could build, overflow, and short circuit sensors leading to an accident. At the time of the recall Toyota said only two people had been injured that they knew of. But that was still two people whose cars had been compromised by spiders.
3. The Fastest Spider Bite in the World was Measured at 1/10 of a Second
We mentioned earlier some of the features that can make a spider terrifying. The potential danger from venom, the size, the number. Another one is speed. Tarantulas are scary because they’re big and they can bite, but at least they move relatively slowly. But the ones that run, and run fast, can set a person screaming in no time.
When it comes to speed, the legs are one thing, but the bite is another altogether. You may have never heard of Mecysmaucheniidae spiders. but they’re worth knowing about. They have the fastest recorded bite speed of any spider.
Also called trap jaw spiders, they keep their mouths open all the time waiting for something to get close enough. High speed cameras have measured the fastest bite at just 1/10 of a second.
Even more impressive is the power behind the jaws. When measured, the power of the bite actually exceeds the spider’s muscle power. So the jaw must have some mechanism that is not yet understood that allows for stored potential energy, likened to the spring on a mousetrap, to be used. On a proportional scale, the jaws close with 200 times more power than what a human leg muscle could produce when jumping.
The silver lining on this cloud is that these spiders are not very large and some are smaller than a grain of rice. So while the bite speed is remarkable, it’s not much of a threat to humans.
2. Some Spiders Create the Biological Equivalent of Transition Lenses
The eyes of various animals can definitely shame those of a human. The humble mantis shrimp has eyes that are so complex and can see 12 to 16 visual pigments compared to a human’s three that it’s like comparing an abacus to a computer. An eagle may have 20/5 vision compared to a human’s 20/20 meaning they can see as much as 5 times further than we can. And some spiders have proven to have remarkable eyes as well.
The Rufous net-casting spider is able to, every day, produce a photoreceptor membrane over its eyes. The night vision of the spider is thus greater than even owls and cats, allowing the spider to draw in even the faintest light with far greater efficiency than nearly any other animal. The structure that allows this to happen is then destroyed as the sun rises so its eyes can adapt to normal light conditions and then produced again as the day ends and light disappears.
1. Spiders Could Theoretically Eat The Entire Human Race
If nothing else sets off your arachnophobia then consider the appetite of spiders. Not a single spider eating a fly in its web, but all spiders in all places. Researchers have estimated that, globally, spiders are able to consume 400 million to 800 million tons of prey every year. That’s a huge range but we’re dealing with a lot of uncertainties so maybe that’s okay. Also, in context here, it won’t even matter.
Building off of that information, you can conclude something arguably, and obviously just theoretically, far more significant. Humans represent 287 million tons of biomass. If through some miraculous means all of a spider’s natural food sources vanished, the world’s spider population would theoretically have the ability to devour all of mankind in well under a year.