When I was little, a classmate informed me of the horrifying fact that every year, on average, I consumed eight spiders while sleeping. That’s right; every single one of us, while dozing in dreamland with mouths agape, are inadvertently swallowing spiders. This is a thought that has haunted me ever since. I had enough nightmares about spiders simply crawling between my sheets, and now I had to worry about these hairy black creatures abseiling down on their spindly threads into my mouth? And oh my god what if the spider was poisonous?!
Thankfully, I’ve since learned that this fear is completely unfounded. I am here to tell you, my friends, that the so-called ‘fact’ of swallowing spiders while sleeping is complete and utter nonsense. This urban legend spread far and wide in the early 1990’s thanks to a magazine columnist, Lisa Holst. Ms Holst wanted to demonstrate that people would believe anything they read on the internet or in an email. She was certainly proven correct.
So why is this spider-eating story so false? Let’s approach the problem as scientifically as possible, by analysing the numerous scientific studies that look at this phenomenon. Oh wait, there aren’t any. It’s such an unlikely event in the first place that it isn’t worth studying. Why the hell would a tiny spider approach the mouth of a gigantic predator that could squish it in a second? The answer is that it probably wouldn’t. Even if a spider were bold (or stupid) enough to approach a big scary human, you’d probably feel it tickling you and immediately wake up. If it did happen to infiltrate your mouth, you’d definitely feel it on your highly sensitive tongue. I’d argue your first instinct would be to spit that hairy little monster out, not swallow it!
Another red flag suggesting the inaccuracy of this spider-swallowing nonsense is that several versions of this ‘fact’ have been floating around. One of these claims that we eat on average one pound of spiders in our sleep over our lifetime. That’s over 450 grams of spiders, which when we consider most house spiders range in weight from a few milligrams to a few grams, is a lot. Not very likely, I reckon.
You can now rest easy, with the assurance that your sleeping self is safe from the objectionable practice of unintentional spider ingestion.