The Suitcase Lady


October 29, 2019, 10:15 pm

“Would you like someone to tell horrible lies about you?” I ask the children at my program about creepy crawlers.

This question always elicits cries of “no way” from the kids. Then I proceed to be what amounts to a defense attorney for spiders.

Arachnophobia is rampant and totally unjustified. Spiders do not run around chasing people, they aren’t bloodsuckers and we are not their lunch. Chris Buddle, an arachnologist at McGill University, says “I’ve been handling spiders for over 20 years, and I’ve never been bitten. You have to work really hard to be bitten by a spider because they don’t want to bite you.”

Another spider researcher, Rick Vetter, says “I’ve had 100 recluse spiders running up my arm, and I have never been bitten by one.”

All spiders do produce venom which is delivered via their fangs. The venom is designed to paralyze or kill and then turn the insides of their prey to mush. In most cases, the prey is small insects and invertebrates. Since we are not in those categories, we aren’t on the spiders’ menus.

The number of spider species worldwide is approximately 40,000. But only 12 species can cause serious harm to adult humans. In North America, that gets narrowed down to only 2 harmful groups, the recluses and the widows.

Statistically, this is still not cause for panic. Since antivenoms have been invented, death by spider bite in America is almost nonexistent. If you want to worry with statistics on your side, fear dog bites, bees or wasps.

Despite overwhelming evidence that the vast majority of spiders don’t harm people, in fact, ignore or avoid us, we humans tend to blame them for many red marks and painful bites that suddenly appear on our skin. One study in California showed that of 182 patients seeking treatment for spider bites, only 3.8 percent had actual spider bites. A quick computer search will find many similar studies across America. People frequently tell doctors they have recluse bites in states where recluse spiders don’t live. We tend to blame what we fear and loathe the most for all our problems.

When a spider bite does occur, it is an accident. We forget to shake out the sleeping bag or shoes when camping. We clean out the dark corners of the garage or attic without wearing gloves or walk barefoot in the grass. Spiders do defend themselves when squeezed.

Spiders are much more helpful to people than harmful. They dine on mosquitoes, fleas, flies and other insects that cause us monumentally more harm than any of their tribe inflict on us. So the next time you see a spider say “hi” and then go about your business. Guaranteed: the spider will go about its business as well.

One of our resident spider friends.

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