Arachnophobia is defined as “the unreasonable fear of spiders and other arachnids”, and the fact that so many people are genuinely terrified of spiders if what makes the meme above so funny. According to the American Psychiatric Association, phobias affect more than one in ten people in the US. And of those individuals, up to 40% of phobias are related to bugs (including spiders), mice, snake and bats.
But what makes spiders so scary?
From a safety perspective, there are actually only 3 spiders in South Africa that are of medical interest. (This means that their bites can cause serious damage) So the likelihood of getting bitten by one is pretty small. The ones to watch out for are the Button Spider (also known as the Black Widow spider), the Sac Spider and the Violin Spider.
Button spiders have neurotoxic venom, which means that it attacks the central nervous system, but only female spiders have fangs large enough to pierce human skin. Symptoms include severe muscle pain, abdominal cramps, hyperhidrosis, tachycardia, and muscle spasms and usually last for 3-7 days.
Violin spiders have cytotoxic venom, which means that the venom destroys tissue. Bites are small and painless, but after a few hours, the site swells up and becomes discoloured. This is followed by blistering and peeling of the skin, which leaves an open wound.
Sac spiders have cytotoxic venom, which destroys tissue. Initially the bite is small and painless, however, after a few days, it becomes swollen and painful and eventually forms a large lesion. Antibiotics are needed to treat the infected tissue, as there is no anti-venom for sac spider bites. There is usually enough time to get to the hospital to get the bite treated if you are unfortunate enough to get bitten by any of these spiders.
If it’s not their bite…
A study conducted in 1991 at the City University in London tried to understand what makes spiders so scary. That study found that it was less to do with the fear of being bitten, but rather the seemingly erratic movements of spiders, and their “legginess”. Other studies have tried to establish whether this is a learned behaviour, a cultural stereotype, or a genetic predisposition.
Whatever the cause, the fact that their presence causes millions of people distress and anxiety is the main reason that spiders are considered a nuisance in the home. Their webs can be an annoyance, but unlike cockroaches or rats – who are classified as pests because of the diseases they spread – spiders are actually beneficial to the ecosystems of our gardens and homes. And, as mentioned above, very few of them are actually harmful to humans.
Spiders as friend rather than foe:
Whilst you may want to reach for the nearest shoe or can of Doom when you see a one inside your house, spare a thought for the fact that spiders eat other indoor pests such as flies, mosquitoes, earwigs and clothes moths. If left alone, spiders will consume most of the insects in your home, providing effective home pest control. And because of this, spiders also help to curtail the diseases spread by flies and mosquitoes (read more about mosquitoes and malaria here).
Spiders are attracted to warm, dark small spaces, like wall cracks, corners, air vents, and the eaves of your home. They are most likely to enter your home in autumn in search of a warm place to spend the winter. Other species prefer to stay closer to the outdoors, weaving their webs in your garden or near your outside lighting.
The best way to keep spiders out of your home is also the most simple; through regular housekeeping activities. You really don’t need to burn the house down. The saying “they’re more scared of you than you are of them” rings true. Spiders are generally shy creatures that can be found in dark, undisturbed areas. Garages or sheds serve as that the perfect breeding spots because they don’t get cleaned on a regular basis. The more often you disturb the environment in which they live in, the less likely spiders are to inhabit those areas, and they will move to a quieter location.
Here are some tips to prevent spiders from taking up residence in your home this winter:
- Vacuum regularly, high and low; particularly sheltered spots such as beneath worktops, backs of cupboards or under/behind large furniture.
- Remove noticeable webs on a regular basis.
- Fill in gaps in walls, around pipework and under doors to deter entry.
- Remove sheltering sites like firewood piles, garden bags, compost piles and general clutter from near your property.
- Deter all insects that spiders feed on (such as flies and mosquitoes).
You can use a general insecticide, but it really shouldn’t be necessary if you employ good housekeeping activities. If you do decide to use insecticide, it’s important to follow the product’s instructions carefully, and keep out of reach of children and pets.