Got a Bite? Don’t Blame it on a Spider
By Chris Williams on June 7, 2016.
News Flash!! Contrary to popular belief, spiders almost never bite people. There is evidence that most of the bites that people (or their doctors) attribute to spiders are not from spiders at all. One survey found that 80% of suspected spider bites were actually caused by other arthropods or were symptoms of a medical condition instead (see How Common Are Spider Bites?). There are at least 30 medical conditions that are easily misdiagnosed as spider bites and plenty of other arthropods that will bite you more readily than a spider would.
A typical reaction to a spider bite is one or more of these symptoms: redness, minor swelling, localized pain, and itching. These symptoms are almost the same for any bite from any insect or arthropod such as a mosquito, chigger, tick, ant, even a wasp. There may be two tiny punctures from the spider’s jaws. If there’s only one central puncture, it’s not a spider bite.
Unless You Saw the Spider Bite You, You’re Probably Mistaken
Some people can be extra sensitive to the saliva or venom injected by the bite of any arthropod. It’s when the bite symptoms don’t quickly abate or get worse that people seek medical help. At that point, if the victim suggests that the bite was from a spider, the physician will often agree.
Rarely does the victim actually see what bit them, and even less often is there an actual specimen of the biter. For example, it has been estimated that 60% of alleged brown recluse spider bites occur in areas of the U.S. where no brown recluse spiders are even known to exist! Yet, this spider gets so much negative publicity and people are so afraid of spiders, that the brown recluse gets undue credit for causing personal trauma.
Most spiders are not even able to break human skin if they attempt to bite. Spiders only bite defensively; they do not come after you. To be bitten by a spider, you have to step on it, roll on it, smash it with a part of your body, or otherwise cause it bodily harm. A child may be bitten when playing with a spider, but this, too, is very rare. When spider bites do occur, it’s generally because someone jammed their foot into a shoe containing a spider, or their hand into a glove, or rolled over onto a spider while in bed. If the spider could have gotten out of the situation, it would have.
What About Poisonous Spider Bites?
Fortunately, here in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, poisonous spiders are not a real concern. The only truly “poisonous” spiders in the U.S. are the black widow spider and the brown recluse spider. Neither one occurs naturally in Massachusetts or New Hampshire, but there are occasional introductions of the spiders when they are carried in by travelers or are shipped in on produce or other products (see Do We Have Black Widow Spiders or Not?).
Even if we did have poisonous spiders here in the Northeast, the same would be true. Both spiders are extremely shy, people are rarely bitten, and bites are rarely life-threatening. There have been no deaths from black widow spider bites in the U.S. in more than 10 years. Spiders just get a bad rap.