10 Creepy-Crawly Facts About Spiders

iStock/pong6400
iStock/pong6400

You don’t have to love ‘em, but there’s no denying that we’d all be a lot worse off without the ecological benefits spiders provide. Join us as we clear up some misconceptions—and revel in some wild facts—about these wonderful arachnids.

1. Spiders can be found nearly everywhere—even on Mount Everest.

It’s a myth that you’re never more than 3 feet from a spider, but they sure are abundant. Scientists recognize over 48,000 different species, distributed across every continent besides Antarctica. Spiders live in all sorts of habitats, from deserts to jungles to wetlands. They even live on some of the world's highest mountains. The tiny Himalayan jumping spider lives at elevations of up to almost 22,000 feet above sea level, and has been found on the slopes of Mount Everest. Meanwhile, the Andes Mountains are populated by high-climbing tarantulas. Seven new species were recently found there, including a skillful burrower that was seen at altitudes above 14,700 feet.

2. The world’s spiders consume millions of tons of insects each year.

According to one 2017 study, the average square meter of land contains roughly 131 spiders. Using relative body sizes and food habits, the study’s authors estimated that “the global spider community” eats a collective 400 to 800 million tons of food—including insects and small vertebrates—per year.

3. Not all spider webs are considered cobwebs.

A spiderweb with dew on it
iStock/vonviper

A cobweb is a specific type of spider web that’s defined by its disheveled appearance. Some webs are well-organized, spiral-like structures made with ring after ring of concentric circles. By contrast, cobwebs don’t really follow any recognizable pattern, per se. They’re tangled, sprawling things made by the aptly named “cobweb spiders” of the Theridiidae family. (Black widows belong to said group.)

4. Some spiders turn their webs into slingshots …

Using its own body like a catapult to create tension between the lines in its web, the Peruvian triangle weaver spider launches itself towards hapless insects. After it springs forward, the arachnid accelerates like crazy. In the span of just one second, the critter’s speed can increase by the equivalent of 1700 miles per hour. During the process, the oscillating web enmeshes the victim, increasing the odds of a kill without requiring the spider to get too close to potentially dangerous prey.

5. … And some like to go ballooning.

A ballooning spider
A ballooning spider near B.K. Leach Memorial Conservation Area in Missouri
Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Ballooning is a popular travel strategy among young spiderlings and small-bodied adults. The technique is simple: A wayward arachnid uses silk strands to catch the wind and ride its currents over vast distances. (Frequent fliers may also be taking advantage of earth’s electromagnetic fields [PDF].) In southeastern Australia, mass migrations of hang gliding spider babies are a common sight. Sometimes, it looks as though the sky is raining spiders.

6. The giant huntsman spider is the size of a dinner plate.

First discovered in Laos in 2001, the giant huntsman spider doesn’t build webs; instead, like other huntsman spider species, it actively tracks down the insects it dines upon. From leg tip to leg tip, the giant huntsman measures 12 inches across, giving it the longest leg span of any modern spider. So does that make it the world’s biggest spider overall? Well, that depends on what measurement you’re using. For all its leggy prowess, the giant huntsman is outweighed by the Goliath birdeater tarantula, a 6-ounce juggernaut thought to be the heaviest spider alive today. But while the tarantula is beefier, it’s got a slightly smaller leg span.

7. Male nursery web spiders trade gifts for sex.

A nursery web spider crawls across a leaf.
iStock/Chris_Soucy

Male nursery web spiders (Pisaura mirabilis) approach potential mates with dead insects “gift-wrapped” in silk. That wrapping material is loaded with male pheromones, but female spiders seem to be totally unphased by the amorous chemicals, according to a March 2018 study. Instead, they focus on the food itself. Approaching females empty-handed is a risky proposition: Males who fail to offer gifts are six times more likely to get eaten by their would-be mating partners.

8. “Sea spiders” aren't really spiders.

A sea spider
iStock/RibeirodosSantos

Not every so-called "spider" is an arachnid. Despite their common name, sea spiders aren’t considered true spiders; they belong to a different class called Pycnogonida. Found in every ocean, the spineless creatures suck up food through a hose-like apparatus and crawl around on eight to 12 segmented legs. The biggest species have incredible leg spans of over 28 inches. Just how they might relate to the spider family tree is unclear, though—because the delicate animals are rarely preserved as fossils, scientists aren't quite sure of their origins [PDF]. While some research suggests that they are chelicerates, belonging to the same subphylum as spiders and horseshoe crabs, others believe they may have evolved separately.

9. Indoor plumbing may have led to a decrease in black widow bites.

Black widows (genus Latrodectus) are among the world’s most feared invertebrates, with North America’s three resident species being especially notorious. Their neurotoxic venom can be fatal to humans, so be sure to give the spiders a wide berth. Yet, your chances of being bitten by one are fairly low. Most black widows prefer to hide rather than bite. And even when they do bite, the spiders sometimes withhold their venom, which is better spent on prey than humans.

During the 20th century, the number of reported black widow bites (as well as fatalities) in America significantly declined. We may in part have our changing bathroom habits to thank for that development. Outhouses are ideal spider shelters, but now that indoor plumbing is here to stay, you don’t see many backyard toilet shacks anymore. Experts think the decline of outhouses led to fewer encounters between widow spiders (including black widows and their relatives, brown widows) and people—and thus fewer bites. And though people do still occasionally get bitten, modern medical advancements have made fatalities very rare.

10. The longest-lived spider on record died at age 43.

For over four decades, scientists kept tabs on a wild trapdoor spider known simply as “Number Sixteen.” First sighted in 1974, the tiny female—less than an inch in width—defended a home burrow in Western Australia. Her death due to a wasp sting was announced in April, 2018. Prior to Number Sixteen, the oldest individual spider in recorded history was a Mexican tarantula that reached the age of 28.

Journey to the Monarch Mosh Pit

iStock/Spondylolithesis
iStock/Spondylolithesis

Each fall, millions of migrating monarchs return to Mexico to wait out winter. The gathering makes Woodstock look like a business conference. Here’s how they get there.

Mosh Pit

In the mountains of central Mexico, the butterflies crowd on the branches of oyamel fir trees. The trees provide a perfect microclimate that prevents the butterflies from getting too hot or cold.

Texas Toast

After winter, the butterflies fly north to Texas in search of milkweed, where they lay their eggs. Many adults will die here; northbound monarchs generally live only three to seven weeks.

Juice Cleanse

One of the reasons monarchs love milkweed? Protection. As caterpillars, they absorb the toxins in the plant, which makes them less tasty to birds.

Connecting Flight

Eventually, a new generation of butterflies will make its way north to Canada. It takes multiple generations of butterflies to reach their final, most northerly destination.

Dine and Dash

On the way, butterflies will eat practically anything. Sure, there’s nectar—but they’ll also slurp the salts in mud.

Catching Air

When fall returns, a new generation of monarchs rides the air currents more than 3000 miles back to Mexico. They navigate by calibrating their body clocks with the position of the sun. (An internal magnetic compass helps them navigate on cloudy days.)

Latitude Adjustment

Monarchs “are one of the few creatures on Earth that can orient themselves both in latitude and longitude,” The New York Times reports—a feat sailors wouldn’t accomplish until the 1700s.

Southern Charm

Miraculously, each generation of southbound monarchs lives up to eight months—six times longer than their northbound descendants. Their longevity might have something to do with a process known as reproductive diapause (which is a fancy way of saying that the insects won’t breed until winter ends).

This Rolling Smart Robot Will Keep Your Cat Company and Help It Exercise, Even When You’re Not Home

Ebo
Ebo

As any true ailurophile knows, cats love to sleep. On average, kitties spend anywhere from 16 to 20 hours of each day napping. But that laziness we often find so charming can sometimes lead to obesity, which can cause some pretty serious health problems for your feline friend. So how do you make sure your cat stays happy and healthy, even when you’re not home? That’s where Ebo comes (or rolls) in.

Ebo is a smart robot designed to keep your cat company and provide them with some much-needed stimulation, especially when you're not around. With more than $90,000 in pledges raised already, Ebo crushed its original $5110 Kickstarter goal, but you can still back the project here, with pledge tiers that start at $159 for a standard EBO and a smart collar that tracks your cat’s activity levels.

The Ebo itself, which is just over two inches tall, connects to Wi-Fi and features an app that allows you to schedule when you want it to start and stop playing with your cat.

When it’s playtime, the tiny robot scans the room to ensure there’s enough space to play safely. Once it makes sure the coast is clear, the robot moves on its own, utilizing an ergonomic design that enables it to wheel in any direction, spin, roll over, or even dance. You also don’t need to worry about keeping your cat’s robot friend charged. If your Ebo happens to be running low on battery, it rolls itself back to its charging station until it’s ready to go again.

According to the designers, Ebo interacts with cats in a way your feline friend understands—through a mix of sound, movement, and light that is always unpredictable. You can even play with your cat through the Ebo with its built-in laser.

The app also allows you to monitor your cat through video. And if they do something cute—as they always do—you can easily snap a photo or shoot a video, edit it, add fun filters, and then share it with others.

The device’s smart collar can be used for up to 30 days on a single charge. Should it get stuck, there’s a safety mode in which it will be released automatically to prevent accidental choking.

If you want an upgrade, there's the Ebo Pro (starting at $199), which features an AI algorithm that analyzes your cat’s mood and motion and adapts for future play.

No matter which Ebo you choose, they all come full of accessories, including decorative soldier, bamboo, onion, or feather caps. And if you order in time, you can snag a model decked out in a Santa hat.

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