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The Most Misunderstood Spiders

     This is an article about spiders that are continually blamed for bites, are the subject of myths, and the subject of fear. Hopefully, maybe, this can shed some light on critters that receive an undeserved reputation and help in public awareness.

     Spiders are some of the most misunderstood critters we have in the U.S. People fear them for various reasons but I suppose mainly because they have eight legs, some are hairy, and they all have fangs to bite with. But honestly, spiders want nothing to do with humans, but fear and panic continues to thrive due to false information, over-exaggeration of facts, myths, and the media. It is true, however, that some spiders deserve more respect than others but all would prefer to be left alone by humans and none are out to get humans.

     Hopefully this will help get rid of any myths, wives tales, or rumors regarding spiders. There seems to be a sort of public hysteria regarding them but there isn't any type of scientific data to back most of it up. So, that means that a good portion of the information that exists in society is false and a lot of it is just plain ridiculous.


     First, let's start with the most commonly seen, daddy-longlegs. The first issue that needs to be cleared up is that there are two totally different critters that people refer to as "daddy-longlegs". One is a true spider while the other is not. The two are the Order Opiliones and the Family Pholcidae in the Order Araneae.

     First are the Order Opiliones because they are probably seen more often than Pholcidae. Opiliones in the scientific community are known as Harvestmen. Other common names are Daddy-long-legs, Granddaddy-long-legs, Opilionids, and Shepherd Spiders, among a few others.

     Harvestmen are arachnids but they are not spiders. As mentioned above Harvestmen are in the Order Opiliones while spiders are in the Order Araneae. One obvious difference between Harvestmen and spiders is that the body shape of Harvestmen appears to be only one segment. However, Harvestmen, as well as spiders, actually have two main body segments, the cephalothorax (head end) and the abdomen (tail end). It's just that in Harvestmen the "junction" between the two parts is not nearly as distinct as in spiders and is usually not noticeable at all at first glance, so it appears as only one body segment. Another anatomical feature of Harvestmen that is also shared with spiders is that they both have eight legs, which is probably the main cause of confusion between the two. But, that is about where the similarities end. To start, Harvestmen have two eyes where spiders can have no eyes on up to eight. Harvestmen do not have silk glands so they cannot make webs but obviously spiders can make webs. Many species of Harvestmen are omnivorous and mainly eat insects and different kinds of plant material but will also eat fecal matter from birds and other critters. Another BIG difference between Harvestmen and spiders is the fact that Harvestmen have no fangs and consequently have no venom. All spiders possess fangs and venom, except the family Uloboridae (which does not possess venom and instead relies on extensively wrapping prey in silk). Harvestmen have what are called Chelicerae, which in spiders they are hollow in order to deliver venom but in Harvestmen they are primarily used to grasp food (see here and here). There is a myth that Harvestmen are among the most venomous and toxic of all arachnids but that their fangs are to small to penetrate our skin. Obviously from the information presented here, on other websites, and in scientific literature, they CANNOT be among the most venomous and toxic of all arachnids if they have no fangs and no venom. So, Harvestmen are completely harmless to humans other than they can give off a foul smelling liquid as a defense mechanism.


     The Family Pholcidae in the Order Araneae are also sometimes called daddy-longlegs but are more correctly known as cellar spiders.

     Cellar spiders are true spiders. They have a distinct cephalothorax and abdomen, eight eyes, eight legs, fangs and venom, and make webs. They are also often mistaken for the Brown Recluse spider. They both have a similar shape and similar color. However, the Brown Recluse does not have the extremely long legs that Cellar spiders do and the Brown Recluse eye arrangement is different.
Below is a comparison between Cellar spiders and Brown Recluse spiders :

   Brown Recluse     Cellar spider

Brown Recluse    Cellar spider

See below for more detail on the Brown Recluse. The Cellar spider also has a dark patch but the shape is not consistent nor is it distinctive. In the second set of pictures you can plainly see the difference in leg length as compared to the body. The Cellar spider has much longer legs in relation to it's body.
Also note that the range for the Brown Recluse is a lot less and doesn't cover near the area that the Cellar spider's range does. See ranges below.
Brown Recluse range
Cellar spider range

     Differences between Harvestmen and Cellar spiders are very obvious and the pictures below should speak for themselves :

  Harvestman     Cellar spider

     Cellar spiders also resemble spitting spiders. But, again, spitting spiders do not have the leg length-to-body ratio that Cellar spiders do. From a distance the color of a spitting spider may resemble Cellar spiders but upon closer examination you will notice that the spitting spider has a distinctly mottled pattern to it's cephalothorax and the eye arrangements are quite a bit different. See comparison examples below :

   Spitting spider       Cellar spider

     The Family Pholcidae is a large group of spiders with numerous genera within the family. As with Harvestmen, there are several myths surrounding Cellar spiders. However, the difference is that Cellar spiders do indeed have fangs and can indeed inject venom. But the fangs of the Cellar spider are very small and it is not fully documented as to whether they can actually penetrate human skin or not. It is known though that they do not have strong jaw muscles, like the Brown Recluse for example. The Brown Recluse and Wolf spiders are hunters and actively track down prey and need to subdue it quickly whereas Cellar spiders prefer to sit and wait until something traps itself in their web then they can wrap it in additional web and deal with it at their leisure.
     There is also a myth that Cellar spiders, like Harvestmen, are among the most deadly spiders in the world. This myth has absolutely no scientific basis whatsoever and I really can't understand how such a myth got started in the first place. First, assuming the spider can bite humans in the first place, the dose of venom would be so small that it's doubtful any reaction would occur. Also there is no scientific data to say exactly how toxic the venom is or how toxic it isn't. There has been no proven and documented cases of Cellar spider bites to humans and certainly none that have ever caused any reactions. You can read about this myth also on this website. It says in part "Daddy-longlegs spiders (Pholcidae) - Here, the myth is incorrect at least in making claims that have no basis in known facts. There is no reference to any pholcid spider biting a human and causing any detrimental reaction. If these spiders were indeed deadly poisonous but couldn't bite humans, then the only way we would know that they are poisonous is by milking them and injecting the venom into humans. For a variety of reasons including Amnesty International and a humanitarian code of ethics, this research has never been done. Furthermore, there are no toxicological studies testing the lethality of pholcid venom on any mammalian system (this is usually done with mice). Therefore, no information is available on the likely toxic effects of their venom in humans, so the part of the myth about their being especially poisonous is just that: a myth. There is no scientific basis for the supposition that they are deadly poisonous and there is no reason to assume that it is true."
     Most spiders, these included, should be a welcome site as they get rid of many other insect pests. This paper discusses the benefits of pholcids with regard to mosquito population control. All spiders play a large role in keeping other critters numbers in check.
Additional pholcid information can also be found on this website.


Next are Wolf Spiders (Family Lycosidae).

     Presumably, Wolf spiders are so named because, rather than spinning a web to capture prey, they actively stalk and hunt prey much like a wolf except Wolf spiders usually hunt at night. However, unlike real wolves, they do not hunt in packs. In fact, spiders in general are solitary creatures except when mating or when they have their young to tend to. Wolf spiders are usually, but not always, large and hairy with fairly big fangs. The fangs are larger, not because they are any more poisonous than any other spider, but because they hunt prey. When any creature relies on hunting, bringing down, and killing another creature for food, the fangs and/or mouth parts are usually relatively large, including fangs and the muscles that drive them. This is because they have to subdue the prey and then hold on to it, inject venom, and all the while the prey is struggling to get free. Spiders that spin webs to catch prey don't have these problems because the web holds the prey still while venom is injected, and so their fangs and the muscles that drive them don't need to be as robust.
     Wolf spiders are large, hairy, and usually colored black, gray, or brown, or a patterned combination of these. Baby Wolf spiders hatch from eggs and look like a miniature adult and as with other spiders they molt, or shed their skin, as they grow larger. A lot of the Wolf spider species lay several dozen eggs, wrap them in a silk ball, then carry them around attached to the females abdomen. When they hatch they crawl up on the mother's back where they stay until they're big enough to hunt for themselves. Generally Wolf spiders tend to live for several years although I haven't read anything that gives a specific quantity of years.
     The Wolf spider's size and appearance (hairy, big fangs) seems to be the thing that initially scares people about them. But also a fear factor is the spider's quickness and agility. Many people mistake it's desperate attempt to flee as an attack because it moves so fast and in any direction it can to escape. But this perception is grossly incorrect. Wolf spiders do not attack people. One would probably bite you if you pick it up but only because the spider fears for it's well being and not because it is attacking you. If you were to be bitten by a Wolf spider it would probably feel no worse than a bee sting. Also, Wolf spider venom is not lethal to humans and probably would not cause a reaction in most people. However, as with any type of sting or bite, a lot of whether you have a reaction or not depends on your personal immune system and how it deals with the venom. For the most part bee stings pose no threat to the average person but some people have extreme reactions to them. By the same token, Wolf spider bites are not an issue for most people but some may experience adverse affects just due to how their immune system deals with it.
     People sometimes confuse the Wolf spider with Nursery Web Spiders - Family Pisauridae or vice versa. They do look similar, however, Wolf spiders are more stocky and sturdily built than Nursery Web spiders. Per the Pisauridae info page, Nursery Web spiders typically rest with legs flattened on substrate, carry their egg sacs by means of their jaws and pedipalps (instead of attaching them to their spinnerets like Wolf spiders do), and all eight eyes are approximately the same size, as opposed to wolf spiders (Lycosidae), where two eyes are more prominent. See the eye arrangements below.

                 Wolf spider eye arrangements

                               Nursery Web spider eye arrangements

Lycosidae vs. Pisauridae body shapes :


Nursery Webs

Apparently there is also some confusion between Wolf spiders and Brown Recluse spiders. I don't personally understand confusing the two but I have read several things where a Wolf has been mistaken for a Brown Recluse. See below for more detail on the Brown Recluse, they aren't nearly as sturdy built as Wolf spiders, and they are not hairy like Wolf spiders. Please see comparison photos below.


Brown Recluse

Wolf spiders are also often mistaken for Tarantulas. However, Tarantulas are much larger than Wolf spiders and their legs and abdomen are much more hairy. In the United States it is reported that Tarantulas can grow to be around 2" long body length and close to 6" leg spread. Wolf spiders are nowhere near this large. For Wolf spider and Tarantula comparison, see below.




     Ok, up next is the Brown Recluse - Loxosceles reclusa.

This spider has to be the most misunderstood spider there is. People seem to be in a complete panic over a spider that, by it's own name (recluse), is seldom ever seen, even in places where it is known to exist. I live in Oklahoma and here we call them Fiddlebacks, obviously due to the "fiddle" or "violin" shaped dark place on it's cephalothorax. Brown Recluse spiders do exist here and in untold numbers. They are in our houses, storage sheds, and barns and we live with them peacefully everyday. Bites from a Brown Recluse are very rare, however they do happen. And people that live in proven Brown Recluse areas don't seem to have the hysteria that people that do not live in proven Brown Recluse areas have. See Rick Vetter's Brown Recluse range map here. If you live in an area that does not appear on this range map then you do not have Brown Recluse spiders in your area. Many, many skin lesions, ulcerations, and blisters are misdiagnosed as Brown Recluse spider bites by misinformed medical staff, further propagating the myth that the Brown Recluse exists in places where there is no scientific proof of their existence in those areas. Even in areas that the spiders are known to exist, misdiagnoses by untrained medical staff causes improper treatment of other ailments because they are treating for a Brown Recluse bite instead of the real cause. Please see this link for other possible causes of skin necrosis. People seem to want to have Recluses for some reason and try to blame any skin irritation they might have on a Recluse.
It should also be noted that the Brown Recluse should not be identified by the "violin" shape alone. There are far too many spiders with a similar marking that can be misidentified and/or mistaken for a Brown Recluse. A good way to identify them is by their eye arrangement, which may take a qualified expert to determine.

Below are some of the BugGuide discussions concerning the Brown Recluse.
Discussion 1
Discussion 2
Discussion 3
Discussion 4
Discussion 5
Discussion 6
Discussion 7

Below are links to other sites regarding the Brown Recluse.
Medical Myth
Myth: idiopathic wounds are often due to brown recluse
or other spider bites throughout the United States (PDF)

Quotes From A Missouri Physician Who Specialized In Brown Recluse Spider Bites

Myth of the Brown Recluse

Identifying and Misidentifying the Brown Recluse Spider

Brown Recluse and Other Recluse Spiders

How to Manage Pests
Warning on the Use of Chemicals

OkieCritter Brown Recluse video (my website)

Brown Recluse spiders are not the vicious killers people seem to want to make them out to be. They are not aggressive and definitely not out to get us. Be sure before assuming you have encountered a Brown Recluse that you are in the spider's range. Panic, misidentification, misinformation, and the propagation of myths continue to unjustly condemn the Recluse.


Now, the dreaded Widow - Genus Latrodectus....
  Probably more commonly known, is the Southern Black Widow - Latrodectus mactans

Black widows are typically jet black (although some can be a dark brown), with the distinguishing red or red-orange hourglass on the underside of the abdomen. As with most spiders, Widows are not aggressive but will bite in self defense or if a female is guarding an egg sac. Widow venom is reported (although I can't find any absolute scientific proof of this) to be 15 times more toxic than a rattlesnake but since the fangs are so small only a small amount of venom is ever injected. The severity of a bite or reactions to a bite depends on the person, where they were bitten, how much venom was injected, and how sensitive the person is to the venom. According to this website, "The bite of a black widow spider initially may go unnoticed, but some people report a short stabbing pain. At first, there may be slight local swelling and two faint red spots, which are puncture points from the fangs. Pain soon begins and usually progresses from the bite site to finally localize in the abdomen and back. Severe cramping or rigidity may occur in the abdominal muscles. Other symptoms may include nausea, profuse perspiration, tremors, labored breathing, restlessness, increased blood pressure, and fever. Symptoms often diminish after a day or so and cease after several days. Serious long-term complications or death are very rare."

Other spiders are sometimes mistaken for Widows such as
But this particular spider is a jumping spider, is smaller than a widow, is much more hairy, does not have the hourglass on the underside of the abdomen, and of course the eye arrangement is completely different. Widows appear "slick" and a lot of times even look like they are wet due to their shiny exterior.

For more information please see :
BugGuide info

Ohio State fact sheet

National Geographic fact sheet

Widows, as with most other spiders, are not the killers that people make them out to be. Most spiders in general can be very beautiful with vibrant colors and artistic appearing webs. Their webs are much stronger than steel, pound for pound, which humans have yet to be able to duplicate. They are also extremely beneficial for pest control and insect population control in general. If all spiders were to disappear from the Earth we would be overrun with insects in a relatively short time. So, before you decide that you can't stand spiders, think about what would happen without them.

Before making hasty decisions or rash judgments, take time to learn about spiders. Understanding and education are the key to eliminating fear and persecution of these fabulous creatures.

Recluse Map Range
Just FYI - the recluse map range linked above leads to a broken site. Here is a map on a live site showing the distribution of Loxosceles sp. in the United States:

I don't know if many people are aware of this
It has been mentioned many times that opiliones are harmless to humans. The only inconvenience they cause is when they secrete a foul smeling liquid. Now, I don't know how many people know about this, I am sure you may think I'm crazy at first just hear me out. I recently started keeping a colony of 4 what I believe to be leiobunum sp. I was had one of the actually start to eat me. I got a picture of the opilione in the act. after I got the picture it got spooked and left. I posted this on Instagram an Arachnoboards and everyone was so surprised to see an opilione bite a human. I decided to see if it would do it again. After crawling around on my arm for a bit, it started eating my skin again. I know you my be thinking that it was just resting on my arm it it just felt funny, and I might not even have an opilione. Well, I can assure you, I have an opilione, and it did eat some of my skin. There was a little welt at the site. Now it has turned red, and it brought blood. I watched the process closely. I just have one question, is anyone else aware of opiliones "eating people". It's not like it's that hard to believe. They are omnivorous. I know this article is really old so I might nit get any responses.

Not surprising
Many peaceful invertebrates will attempt to feed on humans, including adults of several tenebrionids (first hand experience).

About fear of spiders
I do realize that a lot of people have misconceptions about spiders and that it might lead to being unnecessarily fearful of them... But at the same time arachnophobia is a real thing and to someone who truly suffers from it, it won't make a difference if they know the truth or not. Take me for example, ever since I was a kid I've watched all the documentaries on Nat Geo and Discovery that had to do with spiders, and I read articles on them all the time, but put a real spider in front of me and I'll instantly develop symptoms of an anxiety attack. No matter how harmless or small they can be, the thought of being in the same room or having to walk by one terrifies me to the point of shivering and tears, sometimes it even triggers my asthma. So people that are legitimately phobic won't get past their fear unless they're being helped by a therapist or something of that nature.

About the size of Wolf Spiders
I live in West Virginia and was raised on a farm, so I’m not a woman who shrieks and runs at the sight of insects, reptiles, etc. I’ve seen more than my share of wolf spiders, but not one the size that I’m about to describe, encountered back in the early 1980’s. My husband and I had just bought and moved into a house that we later discovered was infested with roaches because of water seeping into the basement through a crack in the concrete wall. Anyway, on the first night in our new home, I got up to go to the bathroom. When I opened the bedroom door and flipped on the hall light, I looked down and stopped dead in my tracks. Between me and the bathroom was a wolf spider the size of an adolescent Tarantula! Legs and all, it would have easily covered the palm of my hand! To make matters worse, it was facing me and had assumed a defensive posture. It was reared back on its hind legs and its front legs were pawing the air! I’m fairly certain that had I taken another step, it would have attacked. Slowly, I backed into the bedroom to retrieve one of my husband’s work boots, with which I intended to hurl at it. When I returned a few moments later, "Wolfie" was gone! It must have seen the look of “The Terminator” in my eyes, or sensed death in the camp. Needless to say, I slept with one eye open that night and thereafter. Due to the roach infestation, the spider was well-fed!

Actually, there is one documented cave spider bite
Just thought you would like to know there actually is one documented and proven cave spider bite which was on Mythbusters (Season 1: Episode 13, the same with with Jimmy Hoffa). However, all he felt was a mild burning/tingling that only lasted a few seconds.

A couple remarks.
Crevice weavers, family Filistatidae (especially genus Kukulcania) are frequently confused with brown recluse spiders, especially since they often build webs indoors....Also, one difference between Pisauridae and Lycosidae that 'often' holds true is that nursery web and fishing spiders are usually found in a vertical plane (on walls, tree trunks, etc) while most of the time wolf spiders are found in a horizontal plane (the ground, logs, rocks). Otherwise, pretty comprehensive article, nice job:-)

Some minor points -
Opiliones lacks the terminal "s" the first time that you reference it in your article.

Rather than using the BG range map for Loxoscleles, which is probably incomplete, I would use the map in Rick Vetter's excellent web article that you referenced, which has a nice multicolor distribution map...

I'm not certain that I would emphasize the "violin" marking on the brown recluse quite so much - maybe one of the spider experts can comment, but my impression is that there are a number of other spiders with that sort of marking as well. The number of eyes and eye arrangement is just as important?

After further reading and a little more research I now agree with not relying on the fiddle marking on the Brown Recluse for identification. I have corrected all references to the marking and have now focused on the eye arrangement.

Thanks for pointing that out!

Terminal "s" fixed.
Rick Vetter's range map reference done.

As for the violin marking, my thoughts are that the average person won't know anything about eye arrangements and such and the marking is one of the most outstanding features for quick identification by the average person. But, as you said, maybe others will comment and I'll go with whatever you guys decide.

Thanks for the comments!

Ready for review.

One Correction:
"All spiders possess fangs and venom."

There's one family, the Uloboridae, that has no venom.

Thanks Chuck!

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