This weekend, a friend posted on Facebook that she’d been trapped in her basement after spotting a spider on the wall by the stairs leading back into her house. She wondered what she would have done if her husband hadn’t returned soon after the incident.
“Walked by the spider up the stairs?” I flippantly replied.
Her fear wasn’t unusual. About half of women and 10 percent of men have arachnophobia. There’s some debate about whether the fear is innate or learned, but it’s definitely real. And it can even make spiders look bigger than they actually are. (Which accounts for my friend saying that her spider was “Godzilla-sized,” which was highly unlikely.)
But spiders don’t scare me, at least not spiders in the United States. When I was in Australia, it was a different story. Before my first trip there, I’d read a book about all the ways you could die in that country. It said not to worry about scorpions because their bite would only hurt; spiders, though, could kill. So when I spotted a spider in my friend’s garage, I stayed far enough away that I couldn’t identify it. It seemed safer that way.
Back at home, when I spot an interesting spider, I’ll grab my phone and get as close as I can to take a photo. That’s how I got the picture above — the spider was pretty, a species I’d never seen before, and I wanted to identify it. (I think she’s a venusta orchard spider, but that’s only an inexpert guess.)
That’s not to say there aren’t venomous species in this country. The brown recluse and black widow spiders are deadly. And there are an average of 6.6 spider-related deaths in this country each year. Australia, in contrast, hasn’t had a confirmed spider bite death since 1979.
Does that mean that I should be more scared of spiders here at home, or less afraid in Australia?
Australia Museum says that the development of antivenom accounts for the lack of spider bite deaths there. Plenty of people get bitten, but they get treated quickly enough that they don’t die. It’s likely a similar story in the United States. Most of the deaths here are kids who don’t get treatment fast enough. (That makes sense — children are curious and can get into trouble, and they can have difficulty telling someone what’s wrong.) Perhaps parents in Australia, where there are so many deadly natural threats, are simply more vigilant.
And a little vigilance isn’t a bad thing. A venomous bite isn’t going to be fun, so avoiding potentially deadly spiders is a good strategy. Just keep a wide berth as you pass one if you’re worried that its bite could hurt.
But back to my friend on Facebook: I feel somewhat bad that I was so flippant in my reply, but spiders generally are not something to be frightened of. They’re fascinating creatures that I’m usually happy to have around the house because they eat annoying critters, like mosquitoes. Though, I will admit, if I found one of these bat-eating spiders in my living room, I might be tempted to call in an exterminator.