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.

Need to Cure of Case of Cabin Fever? Try Backyard Birding

Baltimore orioles are colorful spring migrants.
Baltimore orioles are colorful spring migrants.
Brittany Tande/iStock via Getty Images

No matter how many virtual tours and online classes you take, it's hard not to go a little stir-crazy after weeks of social distancing. If you're already sick of activities that require you to stare at a screen, consider seeking out real-life entertainment in your backyard. As Auburn Pub reports, the New York State Department of Environment Conservation is recommending that residents take up birdwatching during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they stress that it's important to continue to practice social distancing.

Zoos, beaches, and even some national parks are currently closed to the public, but you don't have to travel far to get your daily dose of nature. Spring is in full bloom, and many bird species are currently in the midst of migrating from their winter homes down south to northern states. That means that even urban areas like New York City are becoming places for birds to nest and raise their young.

Local parks are great spots to observe birds while keeping your distance from others, but a trip off your property isn't necessary. If you have a backyard, or even just a tree on the street outside your home, you can watch birds from a patio, balcony, or through a window.

Birding is more than just a way to pass the time when activities are limited. A 2017 study from the University of Exeter found that being able to see birds around your home may reduce levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. If you use birding as an excuse to get out of the house, those benefits may be even greater as being outdoors in general has been shown to boost several facets of mental health.

If you're interested in using your time in isolation to get into birding, there are many resources online you can use. Watch this beginner's guide to birding and read these facts about the birds in your backyard before you get started.

[h/t Auburn Pub]

Beyond Tiger King: 10 Fascinating Animal Documentaries You Can Stream Right Now

A scene from Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit (2018).
A scene from Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit (2018).
Markham Street Films

By now, you've probably already binged Netflix's bewilderingly bonkers docuseries Tiger King (2020). If you're ready to dive deeper into the animal kingdom, there are plenty more documentaries out there. From wildcats to whales, these 10 films will take you on a cinematic adventure around the world, introducing you to captivating creatures and the people who love them.

1. The Tigers of Scotland (2017)

The Tigers of Scotland (2017) brings viewers as up close and personal as possible with a small but mighty feline: the Scottish wildcat. The film delves into the efforts to conserve the disappearing Highland tiger, as well as the history and mythology surrounding the UK’s only “big cat.”

Watch it: Netflix, Amazon, iTunes

2. Ghost of The Mountains (2017)

This 2017 Disneynature documentary will transport you to the world’s highest plateau in search of a family of snow leopards. These cats are famously tough to find, so Ghost of the Mountains offers viewers behind-the-scenes footage of what it’s like to track the elusive beasts.

Watch it: Netflix, Google Play, Youtube

3. Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit (2018)

This delightful documentary takes you deep into the competitive cat show circuit. Both charming and at times cutthroat, the film brings viewers on a journey to see which of the many cool cats and kittens will be crowned Canada's top cat.

Watch it: Netflix

4. Kingdom of the White Wolf (2019)

Follow along as a National Geographic explorer and photographer embeds with a white wolf pack in the high Arctic. These wild wolves aren't used to seeing people, giving the filmmakers—and audience—an intimate window into the pack's daily lives and familial bonds. In addition to showcasing captivating footage of the animals, the three-part docuseries also features sweeping views of the starkly beautiful Ellesmere Island.

Watch it: Disney+, YouTube TV

5. Dogs (2018)

This docuseries, which highlights various dogs and their humans from around the world, celebrates the bond between people and their pups. But it’s more than just a montage of feel-good moments about humankind’s best friend: Each episode tells a broader tale about the human condition, crafting an emotional narrative that pulls at the heartstrings like a puppy tugging on a toy.

Watch it: Netflix

6. Dancing with the Birds (2019)

These birds will put your dad moves to shame. Watch the male avian performers shimmy, shake, and flash their feathers while attempting to woo their female mates. The documentary, narrated by Stephen Fry, offers a colorful look at the wonderfully wacky world of bird mating rituals.

Watch it: Netflix

7. Honeyland (2019)

This documentary follows Hatidze Muratova, one of the last wild beekeepers in a remote village in North Macedonia. She lives with her ailing mother, nurturing a traditional way of beekeeping passed down through the generations and striking a balance between making a living and maintaining ecological balance. But everything changes when a nomadic family settles nearby, threatening Muratova’s way of life. The resulting story is both sweet and stinging.

Watch it: Hulu, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play

8. Virunga (2014)

This 2014 documentary highlights the park rangers fighting to protect the Congo’s Virunga National Park, home to the critically endangered mountain gorilla. As poaching and oil exploration threaten the park, the rangers and conservationists risk their lives to guard the rare creatures that inhabit it.

Watch it: Netflix

9. Harry & Snowman (2016)

In the 1950s, Harry deLayer bought Snowman, a run-down plow horse destined for slaughter, for just $80 at an auction. Within months, the two were taking the show jumping circuit by storm, launching both horse and rider to new heights. This documentary tells the story of the friendship the two developed, and chronicles their lives both in and out of the competitive spotlight.

Watch it: Amazon Prime

10. The Whale and the Raven (2019)

The waters around Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest are a haven for whales, who feed and find refuge in the quiet channels. With stunning visuals, this documentary highlights the tension of a community’s push to protect its wild places against the pressures of the ever-encroaching natural gas industry.

Watch it: Amazon Prime

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