10 Freaky Facts About Spiders

CESpiderWebWhile most people have at least a credible amount of fear or aversion to all forms of creepy crawlies, spiders in particular tend to get a bad rap. Household spiders perform a valuable service by keeping the insect population in check, and while a notorious few can have dangerous bites, the vast majority are perfectly harmless to humans. Spiders are, in large part, nocturnal, and mostly keep to themselves. In other words, if you don’t bother it, it won’t bother you.

Nevertheless, arachnophobia affects some 3-1/2 to 6 percent of the population, and the mere sighting of a spider has been known to make grown men squeal like a little girl. What’s the big deal? Well, could it be because all spiders are predators, and together they make up the largest group of carnivores in the world? Here are ten more freaky facts about spiders:

1. All spiders are venomous, except for one (the hackled orb weaver). They use their venom to paralyze their prey.

2. Spiders transfer venom to their prey by biting them with sharp fangs. In the case of the South American goliath birdeater, those fangs can be over 3/4 of an inch and reach up to 1-1/2 inches!

3. All spiders produce silk, which they use for different purposes. Some use it for shelter, to protect offspring and/or to assist them as they move. Some use it to capture prey, and most use it to keep their victims immobile while they wait for them to liquefy.

4. A spider’s digestive process actually takes place outside the spider’s body. Using its fangs, it injects digestive enzymes into its prey, which cause the tissues inside the exoskeleton to liquefy. It then sucks out the liquefied matter, leaving the insect’s empty shell intact. Some spiders use a slightly different method to break down their prey, but you get the idea.

5. Spiders use a combination of muscle and blood pressure to move their legs. They do this by contracting muscles in their cephalothorax (fused head and thorax), which increases blood pressure to the legs. Jumping spiders can use this sudden increase in blood pressure to spring as much as a foot, horizontally. Yikes!

6. The jumping spider family, or Salticidae, as the eggheads call it, comprises around 13% of all spider species, making it the largest family of spiders. Jumping spiders have exceptional eyesight, owing to their four pairs of eyes. Jumping spiders have no need for webs; they simply pounce on their prey.

7. Like jumping spiders, wolf spiders don’t bother with webs, preferring to hunt down their prey using superior strength and exceptional eyesight, especially at night. Wolf spiders can be found all over the world, are solitary hunters and sometimes mistaken for tarantulas, due to their large size and predilection to remain on the ground, using vegetation or leaf litter for cover. Female wolf spiders are known to be aggressive when they’re carrying around an egg sac, and after hatching, carry the hatchlings around on their backs for several days.

8. Male spiders are generally smaller than female spiders, and risk being eaten by them if the female is hungry enough. For this reason, male spiders of different species are known to perform elaborate courtship rituals to identify themselves as potential mates before approaching a female spider. Jumping spiders perform dances from a safe distance, and then await approval before getting too close. Male orb weavers and other web builders wait on the outer rim of a female’s web, where they gently pluck at the silk to transmit a signal to the female. If she likes the vibes, she’ll send back a signal that it’s safe to approach.

9. The black widow actually comes from a whole family of widow spiders (Theridiidae), so named for their penchant for eating their mates after copulating. The bite of a black widow spider secretes a neurotoxin called latrotoxin, which causes a condition known as latrodectism, both terms deriving from the name of the black widow species: Latrodexus. While rarely fatal in humans, the condition causes pain, vomiting, sweating and muscle rigidity; so you may only wish you were dead. Domestic cats, however, have been known to die from it. Brown recluse, or violin spiders, on the other hand, inject a venom that sometimes leads to necrotizing ulcers that destroy soft tissue, take months to heal and leave deep scars. Rarely, the bites can lead to systemic illness, organ failure and even death in small children or those with a weakened immune system.

10. Arguably the largest species of spider is the South American goliath birdeater, whose leg span can reach up to a foot (about the size of a dinner plate). Found in coastal rainforests of Surinam, French Guiana and Guyana, a few have been spotted occasionally in Brazil and Venezuela. With a reported lifespan of 10 years, the birdeater can weigh more than 6 ounces and has hardened tips and claws on its feet that produce a distinctive clicking sound when it walks. Now THAT’s creepy!

Although some would argue that the giant huntsman is larger since it has a slightly larger leg span, it’s body is much lighter and more delicate. It’s somewhat like comparing a giraffe to an elephant.

In addition to its long fangs, which can reach up to 1-1/2 inches, the birdeater is capable of sending out clouds of hairs from its body which wreak havoc in the eyes and mucous membranes of its enemies. While venomous and quite painful (like driving a nail through your hand), the bite of a birdeater is not deadly to humans.

Contrary to its name, the birdeater doesn’t usually eat birds, although it will attack most anything it encounters and is capable of killing small mammals. Fortunately for the birds, this gargantuan spider mostly hunts for frogs, insects and especially earthworms which come out on humid nights. If a birdeater does happen to stumble on a bird nest, however, it has no qualms about puncturing and drinking bird eggs, and could easily kill chicks and parents as well.

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