Sunday, January 9, 2011

Do You Swallow Spiders While You're Sleeping?

Recently on MSNBC'S Chris Jansing and Company, Animal Planet's Jeff Corwin concluded an interview by stating that the average person swallows 10 spiders each year while sleeping.  The idea is that while you're snoring away, a spider spies a nice, dark cave -- your mouth -- and when it crawls in to hide, you instinctively swallow.  10 spiders a year!  That's good stuff.

Unfortunately, it isn't true.  Multiple sources debunk the "myth" of spider-swallowing; however, while many dismiss the idea as hoax, I'm not convinced that the concept itself is so ludicrous.  It seems to me quite probable that we do consume spiders, many of them, along with all the other creepy, crawly things we accidentally ingest.

On article states that "The University of Idaho calls this 'total nonsense.' The University of Washington says it has 'no basis in fact.' This urban legend was, in fact, started intentionally by someone who was trying to prove how gullible people can be."  Okay.  I understand that putting a hard and fast number on spiders consumed per year is a stretch, but why is the idea that a spider could end up in someone's mouth "total nonsense"?

There are a lot of spiders in the world: 131 spiders per square meter on this planet.  I've also seen the figure at 100 per square foot.  I also found a claim of 80,000 per acre.  Maybe these are made up numbers, too.  Everyone's yard and environment are different.  But it's likely that your house is completely crawling with spiders, most of them very small and harmless.  "Counting the crawlspace and wall voids, (there are) several hundred spiders at least in a typical house. They would belong to anywhere from 5 to 25 different species, depending on how rich a spider habitat your house is (i.e. how many insects and how much moisture is available)." 

This seems as good a time as any to point out the existence of spider traps.

Anyone who claims to know an exact population of spiders on Earth is fooling themselves.  But for certain, the human race is outnumbered.  This world is the insects' and arachnids' world, and we're just living in it.  Spiders and other bugs own your county, your yard, your house, your bedroom, and your bed.   Watch this great video, which illustrates just how many insects there are... -- scientists estimate there are 3 billion insects over your head during a summer month.  Some of these are spiders, floating along at 12,000 feet.  Fascinating stuff.  If a spider can get two miles high in the sky, maybe it can get in your mouth.

Many spiders are tiny.  The world's smallest spider is less than half a millimeter.  Here's a handsome lad from who's 1.5 millimeters -- that means 16 of them could form a line from one end of a quarter to the other, nose to butt... or palp to spinneret, I guess.

"For a sleeping person to swallow even one live spider would involve so many highly unlikely circumstances that for practical purposes we can rule out the possibility. No such case is on formal record anywhere in scientific or medical literature."  Wow.  Someone was really upset about the idea of a spider in her throat.  I understand that people are zealous about crushing myths, and no, tarantulas aren't crawling on your face every night.  Other big spiders probably aren't either.  But why are people so adamant that you NEVER swallow ANY spider EVER?  It seems fairly likely to me that with the incredible spider population in the world, inevitably they dangle on their little web-lines, floating wherever the breeze, the air-conditioner, or drafts push them, and just by the force of statistics, they end up in your mouth.  Remember, many of these arachnids are miniscule!  

What about the other bugs you eat routinely?  Have you ever swallowed a bug while riding a bike or motorcycle, or jogging?  Of course you have.  And not just the times you remember -- most of the insects you devour are too small for you to even feel it happening.  If you have dust, you eat dust mites (and their feces and skin-droppings).  "A typical used mattress may have anywhere from 100,000 to 10 million mites inside. (Ten percent of the weight of a two year old pillow can be composed of dead mites and their droppings.)"

Then there are all the insect pieces and parts in your food.  The Food and Drug Administration states that "Tomato juice, for example, may average '10 or more fly eggs per 100 grams [the equivalent of a small juice glass] or five or more fly eggs and one or more maggots.' Tomato paste and other pizza sauces are allowed a denser infestation — 30 or more fly eggs per 100 grams or 15 or more fly eggs and one or more maggots per 100 grams."  Limits are placed on insect filth, insects, larvae, mites, eggs, flies, parasites, but some amount of all are allowed.  Let's face it, if you eat food, you eat insects -- they're teeny, and they like the same vegetables we do.       

This lovely New York Times article explains that a common dye used in food, drinks and cosmetics is actually derived from crushed bugs.  Turns out that the "artificial color" in your pink lemonade or your lipstick comes from the Cochineal --  quite probably, you already enjoy a steady diet of beetle juice.

But I digress.  Weren't we asking about spiders, and whether they crawled in your mouth while you were asleep?  Of course they do.  But once you've accepted the idea that you are more or less constantly eating bugs, the idea of swallowing spiders in your sleep becomes less repulsive.  Maybe we shouldn't reflexively snap that "That's not possible!  It's a hoax!"  Putting a number on it isn't right -- there is no scientific "average".  But considering that there are trillions upon trillions of tiny little spiders in the world, the idea of some ending up in your mouth isn't so far-fetched.  Jeff Corwin may be a lot of things, but maybe he isn't such a big, fat liar after all.

--- Morning Cup O' Doom ---


  1. Jeff Corwin IS a big, fat liar!! Of the biggest, fattest proportion! It is a well known fact that spiders are afraid of the dark. They do not crawl into your mouth as you slumber, or eat your toes, or web your eyelids shut, or leave little eggs sacs filled with millions of little spiders in your favorite shoes.

  2. This was a good read..... I feel way better about my snoring and way worse about my bloody marys!

  3. The fact that there IS a recorded case of a guy having to have a spider removed from his ear say it is absolutely possible that they could get in your mouth.

  4. Of course it's possible! Almost anything is possible. If there were good statistics on this, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that at least one case in history has been documented. In fact, I wouldn't even be surprised to learn that most people eventually swallow at least one tiny spider in the course of their lives. But there are a couple good reasons to suspect that this is not at all common or likely to happen. One is that it's not documented; in other words it's probably quite rare. And the other is because spiders (like all other successful living things, i.e. creatures that exist) are really good at avoiding what's not good for them! Spiders that routinely walk into wet cavities and are sucked in by sporadic winds (inhalation during snoring) to a sure death in somebody's esophagus or lungs are simply not likely to be successful. And just as there are lots of spiders out there, there are lots of breathing mouths and noses of all sorts of breathing vertebrates (dogs, cats, alligators, rabbits, foxes, wildebeasts, etc., etc.). So, I'm guessing spiders are actually really good at avoiding crawling into mouths and other stupid places to go hide. Never underestimate the intelligence of a creature that can make a fancy net to catch its own food!

  5. I had what i thought was fluid in my ear, went to the dr. and they flushed out a small spider !!!!


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