Spiders are among the top 10 most diverse species in the world and play a vital role across several ecosystems. But while their presence can strike fear in many people, they are amazing little creatures (and can even be quite cute)!
Separate fact from fiction as we examine 10 common beliefs about spiders and discover why these amazing arachnids are so remarkable.
All Spiders Create Silk
Spiders come in various shapes and sizes, each possessing unique skills and characteristics. Still, something every one of the 40,000 spider species has in common is the ability to produce silk. They use this silk to build nests, act as a safety line (if they fall), trap prey, and protect their eggs.
Did you know that spider silk is actually a liquid? It hardens into a solid once it comes into contact with air. And it's impressively strong; each strand is around five times the strength of an equivalent width of steel.
Some Male Spiders Cannibalise Themselves
Many of us are familiar with the fact that black widows will eat the male of their species after mating. But, what we might not know is that male brown widows actually cannibalize themselves. After mating, the male places himself on the mandibles of the female so that she may eat him. Even if she chooses to spit him out, the male will continue to put himself back in her mouth until she consumes him.
Spiders Aren't Insects
Spiders are among the most commonly misclassified species, with many people assuming their small stature groups them with other insects. But spiders are members of a group called arachnids and carry a few distinct differences from insects. Firstly, they only have two parts to their bodies; secondly, they have eight legs, not six, and six or eight eyes. In addition, all spiders possess spinnerets which produce silk.
Spiders Are Not Everywhere
If you read enough "fun facts" about spiders, you'll no doubt encounter the famous line, "you're never more than three feet away from a spider." But this myth originated in a 1995 article by the arachnologist Norman Platnick who said, "Wherever you sit as you read these lines, a spider is probably no more than a few yards away." Not only did repetitions of this report the distance inaccurately, but they also forgot the word "probably."
How far you are from a spider depends entirely on where you're standing. If you're standing in a grassy field, then chances are that there's a spider right beneath your feet, or at most 3cm away from you. But if you're in a concrete car park, the closest spider could be 100 meters away.
While we're debunking myths, you can sleep soundly at night knowing that you're very unlikely to eat spiders during your rest. There's probably a spider somewhere in your house (especially in the chilly winter), but they have no reason to want to crawl inside your mouth.
Spiders Have Blue Blood
We associate blood with the color red because the majority of animals have oxygen-filled hemoglobin, which gives our blood a brilliant red hue. But spiders - along with snails and octopuses - have blue blood. This is because the oxygen in a spider's blood binds to copper, giving it a blue coloration, whereas the oxygen in human blood binds with iron, making it red.
Spiders Are Excellent Recyclers
Many animals align their behaviors to live in harmony with their natural environment, and the spider is no exception. When it comes to web building, many spiders eat their old webs to reabsorb the proteins before they build a new web. Radioactive tagging of spider webs shows that as much as 90% of previous web material could appear in a new web.
Spiders See the World Differently
Eight is the magic number for spiders; all species have eight legs, and many have eight eyes (though some only have six). One set of eyes is called the primary pair and works to create images, while the secondary sets only detect light and shadow. Still, spiders are near-sighted. While this could be a problem for humans, it isn't a problem for spiders who use their silk wires to protect themselves against predators.
Spiders may not have the same visual abilities as humans; they can see things that we can't even comprehend, such as the color of UVA or UVB waves.
Some Spiders Have Jumping Abilities
The jumping spider can jump distances of up to 50 times their own body length - that's like you jumping around 85 meters in a single leap! To do this, they increase blood pressure in the back legs, which helps expand them and boost the spider.
This spider species is particularly cute and forms the basis for the character Lucas the Spider. Like this cutie, the jumping spider is pretty harmless - it is neither poisonous nor venomous - and would rather flee than fight.
Spiders Sometimes Work Together (and the results can be terrifying)
The majority of spiders are independent creatures who work alone to catch prey. Still, some types gather in groups that can number thousands. When this happens, they create mass communal cobwebs, which can look like something out of a horror movie.
Spiders Can Be Great Actors
Spiders are predatory animals, but their rudimentary defense mechanisms leave them vulnerable to many other predators. Because of this (and the fact that they like to eat ants), more than 300 spider species have evolved the ability to mimic an ant; this is called myrmecomorphy.
Ants are territorial and aggressive, so many predators avoid them and search for easier prey. This makes the ant a perfect disguise for the spider, which mimics this hardy insect with a kind of "false waist" covered in reflective hairs - a disguise that helps them emulate the shiny, triple-segmented body of the ant. And they even behave like an ant by waving their front pair of legs in front of their heads like antennae.