Coexisting with Spiders

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Photo by Sean McCann

What do I do with spiders if I find them in my house?

If you care about spiders, the best thing to do is let any spiders you find hang out in your house. After all, these animals help to control other insects in your house. But, to be fair, the spider poop can make a bit of a mess, and if you are an arachnophobe, or live with one, you may need to deal with the situation . If you don’t want to handle your spider but need to move it, do the old “cup over paper” trick, place a cup over the spider and gently slide it over a piece of paper so the spider is now captured. But what to do now . . .

It gets a little tricky: people generally have a belief that an indoor spider is really just an outdoor spider that is somehow trapped inside. They feel they’re helping the spiders to “free” them outdoors. But remember, many spiders found in our homes are actually in their preferred habitat already (e.g., the cellar spider), and sometimes it’s much colder (or hotter) outside than inside. So even though releasing your spider back into the wild may make you feel better, you are probably actually killing your spider by releasing it into the wild outdoors.

Perhaps the best thing to do is move your house-loving spider to a part of your house where it can live peacefully and without bothering you: perhaps your basement or a sunroom with lots of houseplants or a closet. Give your spider a room of its own.

Photo by Sean McCann

Can all spiders bite? Are all spiders venomous? If they bite me, will I get a bacterial infection?

While it’s true that all spiders are venomous, not all spiders can bite humans (remember that many species are very, very tiny!). Even those species that can bite humans rarely do. Spider venom is mostly suited for their insect prey and not generally strong enough to affect humans.

In North America, there are only two groups of spiders that may be “medically important”— the brown recluse and the widows — which means these two spider types have the potential to cause serious harm to humans. Even with these groups, serious medical complications are uncommon. In many cases of “harm,” a diagnosis of a bite from these spiders doesn’t even coincide with the range of the species. It’s easy to blame a spider, but an accurate verification of a spider bite really requires capturing the culprit and identifying it.

Photo by Crystal Ernst

Research has shown that misdiagnosis of bites or other wounds as having been caused by spiders has led to unwarranted fear of spider bites. Because of this, medical practitioners should look to other more plausible explanations, perhaps bedbugs, fleas, or bacterial infections.

You often hear that a spider bite might result in a bacterial infection because a spider’s fangs are “dirty.” However, a recent scientific study found that this is not likely. That being said, spiders do sometimes move around the globe on our bananas or hidden in grapes. Thankfully, arachnologists have found that very few of these spiders are dangerous to humans. To avoid being surprised by globetrotting arachnids, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for spiders when selecting your fruits and veggies.

Ultimately, you just don’t need to wander around being worried about spider bites. Most spider species are small, walk unnoticed among us, flee to dark hiding places, and are far more wary of us than we need to be of them.

Cover courtesy of the University of Chicago Press

Reprinted with permission from Dr. Eleanor’s Book of Common Spiders by Christopher M. Buddle and Eleanor Spicer Rice and published by The University of Chicago Press