Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

10 surprising facts about spiders

Arachnophobia, an irrational fear of spiders, affects millions of people around the world. This is not helped by popular culture portraying them as scary, deadly creatures who could creep up on you, and bite you, when you least expect it. Admittedly, they also look pretty creepy…

The outcome being that spiders often get a bad reputation, with people running away from them, or killing them, when they usually pose no danger to anyone. In fact, spiders play a very important part in balancing nature, controlling the population of insects. You do need to be careful of the hundred or so species that are classed as dangerous, but this is only one hundred out of over thirty-five thousand species of spider. So the odds are in our favor.

Are you scared of spiders? Marie Curie once said “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood”. Why not celebrate Save a Spider Day and take a leap into the web of knowledge with us? We’ve found the following ten facts about these misunderstood creatures:

  1. Spiders have been around much longer than we have, appearing over 400 million years ago during what is known as the Devonian period, so it’s not really fair that we sometimes treat them so poorly. We should be respecting our elders!
  2. They live on every continent. The only place where spiders have not been found is the ice cap of Antarctica.
  3. Surprisingly, not all spiders build webs. Some will hunt their prey rather than build a trap, but all of them produce and use silk for a variety of purposes.
  4. 'Ant mimic jumping spider' by Shyamal. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
    ‘Ant mimic jumping spider’ by Shyamal. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
  5. The largest spider is the Goliath tarantula, found in South America – it has a leg span of 26cm, which is the same size as a Chihuahua. The smallest spider is the male Patu digua, whose body length is only 0.37 mm – 3 of these spiders would fit on the head of a pin.
  6. Some spiders can mimic other creatures, pretending to be ants, distasteful bugs, and even bird droppings on a leaf, either to defend against predation or as a form of attack.
  7. Many spiders will eat a variety of creatures, whilst some have very specific diets. For example, the tropical bolas spider will only eat the male of a single species of moth – it lures its prey by pretending to be the female moth.
  8. Most spiders can’t see very well, mainly because they are nocturnal and “listen” to the world around them using vibrations felt through the air, ground, their webs, or the surface of water.
  9. Spiders often use their chelicerae as weapons for attack and defence, however fishing spiders also use them to hold their egg cocoons whilst they run along the surface of water.
  10. All but one family of spiders (the Uloboridae) are venomous, but the majority can’t harm humans – there are less than 100 species that are considered to be a serious danger to humans.
  11. The famous black widow spider goes by many different names across the world: malmignette (southern Europe), Button spider (South Africa), Redback (Australia), and katipo (New Zealand).

There are even more facts to be discovered, so check out the article on spiders from The New Encyclopedia of Insects and their Allies, available on Oxford Reference, to discover more.

Featured image credit: Spider web, by avtar. CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay.

Recent Comments

  1. Faylinn

    I am so glad that there are no Goliath tarantula spiders where I live! I don’t know what I would do if one the size of a Chihuahua were to be around me. Honestly, I’d probably faint. Anyways, do you know what those tarantulas eat off of in order to be that big or if they post any harm to humans?

  2. Hilal Ahmad

    Very interesting facts about the spiders, I would like to Thank you for this awesome work.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *