Sunday, December 16, 2007

Some spiders like to eat cockroaches and other bugs you don't want in your home

Simply Living

(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel December 16, 2007)

Spiders. If you think they're creepy, you're not alone.

Arachnophobia -- the fear of spiders -- is one of the most common human phobias. It doesn't matter if the offender is a harmless garden spider or a more sinister black widow; the mere sight of these eight-legged creatures is enough to trigger a primordial panic button in many men and women.

That's too bad, because spiders are a far cry from the monsters people make them out to be. If bugs are the enemy, spiders -- which are not insects -- are the good guys. As a group, these invertebrates consume more bugs than birds do.

Take cockroaches -- go on, take as many as you want.

In our house, we enlist help from spiders -- specifically Huntsman spiders (Heteropoda venatoria) -- to keep our house as cockroach-free as possible. Floridians who want a bug-free house welcome these 3- to 5-inch long spiders with open arms -- well, maybe not exactly open arms, but at least with an open mind.

Unlike most arachnids, Huntsman spiders won't leave dust-catching webs in hard-to-reach corners. They are web-free spiders that capture their prey with a combination of stealth and speed. And capture they do. Wherever Huntsman spiders reside, cockroach populations decrease along with other pesky home invaders such as palmetto bugs, crickets and silverfish.

The only drawback to these dedicated hunters is their unexpected size -- they look like hairless tarantulas. Encountering one late at night when you're still half asleep en route to the bathroom can a surprising experience to even the most spider-friendly person.

Fortunately, these cockroach-consuming Goliaths have no interest in people. Their focus is on bugs. Around people, they are inherently shy, rarely appearing during daylight hours.

It is not surprising that house spiders are wary of humans. People bombard spiders with an irrational brutality completely out of proportion to the presumed threat. Armed with whatever weapon can be quickly found -- brooms, fly swatters, rolled-up newspapers or aerosol containers of poison -- people pursue these harmless bug eaters with an irrational passion.

What is it about spiders that turn even the gentlest souls into ruthless killers?

It's probably their reputation. When it comes right down to it, spiders are victims of bad public relations. Yes, a few unsavory sorts present a danger, but to be afraid of an entire species for the sins of some makes no sense at all.

Consider dogs. Pit bulls and Rottweilers are like the canine equivalent to widow and recluse spiders because bites from each have been known to inflict bodily harm. The brown recluse can be found in Florida together with three kinds of widow spiders -- the Southern black, brown and red widow. Although recluse and widow spiders have the potential to hurt humans, they usually don't unless provoked.

But dogs -- oh, my goodness! Every year dog bites injure 4.5 million Americans. That's one injury every 40 seconds!

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Veterinary Medical Association, of the 25 breeds involved in the 238 dog-related fatalities in the United States between 1979 and 1998, pit bulls and Rottweilers were responsible for more than half.

If we applied the same reasoning toward dogs as we do toward spiders, we'd grab a can of poison and spray every canine in sight.

Of course, that would never happen. We'd never attack an entire species because of the dangerous actions of a few. Or would we? We do it every day to spiders, and yet the threat spiders pose to people is minute by comparison to the risk of dog attacks.

Statistics on spider bites are not as well tracked as those of canines, but according to Terry W. Thormin, acting curator of invertebrate zoology at the Royal Alberta Museum in Canada, in America 5,000 medically significant cases of spider bites occurred from 1989 to 1993. That's about 1,250 bites per year, barely a fraction of the 4.5 million tooth marks left by man's best friend.

What does it all mean? It means the threat from spiders is practically nonexistent.

Yet, people remain terrified by the mere sight of these benign bug catchers. Most of us would rather fill the air with noxious poisons than permit one tiny spider to go about its business keeping our homes free of cockroaches, flies and mosquitoes.

I have never understood why spiders terrify so many people. Like any predatory animal, invertebrates have their place in nature. The more we learn about their habits, the more likely we are to replace irrational fears with informed appreciation.

The way I see it, it's not spiders that present a problem but people who use poisons to kill each and every spider, cockroach, wasp, ant, fly or silverfish in sight.

Would we really rather breathe in air contaminated by potentially harmful chemical compounds than coexist peacefully with household spiders?

Life is too fragile for indiscriminate killing.

No matter what or who the perceived enemy may be, it's time we said no to irrational fears and hello to more educated choices.


  1. "Consider dogs. Pit bulls and Rottweilers are like the canine equivalent to widow and recluse spiders because bites from each have been known to inflict bodily harm."

    When was the last time you woke up in the middle of the night to see a pit bull crawling around the corner or your ceiling seemingly staring at you?

    and the last time you walked into a Rotweiler and felt it crawling on your face because you were by a tree or some sort of overhanging object and you couldnt see it.

    Also, to judge a whole breed of dog based on the action of few is just as immoral as judging spiders. Aggressive Pit bulls and Rot's are NOT by any means the majority. And, this trait is a direct reflection of its upbringing. You let me know when you have your "house spiders" rolling over and shaking your hand and liking children's faces out of excitement and joy like i have my 6 year old Rot doing, and ill stop grabbing a can of poison when i see a spider in my room.


    1. Google Image "Jumping Spiders" and you will see how beautiful they are. Like beautiful exotic birds. So lovely, and spiders are harmless to humans! put the bug spray down, take a deep breath when you see a spider, relax yourself, and then take a moment to watch. Walk up on it, get close enough to let your eyes see the beautiful creature before you, then when you are done, simply walk away and no harm, no foul.

    2. i agree with you about jumping spiders. not only are they beautiful but their behavior is fascinating to watch.

      so much in nature is like that if we allow ourselves to view nature with unbiased eyes.

      in our society, spiders are considered the "bad guys" when in reality they are among the more beneficial of nature's creatures.

    3. 'Also, to judge a whole breed of dog based on the action of few is just as immoral as judging spiders.'

      ... that was her point, stupid.

    4. "We'd never attack an entire species because of the dangerous actions of a few. Or would we? We do it every day to spiders, and yet the threat spiders pose to people is minute by comparison to the risk of dog attacks."

      The whole point of the article is not to judge based on a few at all, be it spiders or dogs. I don't understand how david got the idea of judging dogs by a few breeds, as he is obviously mad at the idea. That was an example of an obviously wrong moral reasoning, only to demonstrate that a lot of people are having unreasonable fear and prejudice against spiders.

      It's really your call to kill a spider or not as there won't really be any 'spider rights people' being mad at you, but just think for a moment why those spiders were there and what they feed on... (apart from the immoral act of killing without good reason but only from fear)

      I bet you would begin to see other...bugs... instead of spiders.

  2. Dave, I am going to have to agree with sherry, i think you missed the point of the passage. As far as the text you cited, sherry wasn't talking about the actual physical aspect of a spider and a canine, she was providing a similarity that would be much easier to visualize due to the popularity of canines vice spiders. As she pointed, the term spider freaks many people out thus creating a learning barrier as a result. In this passage she is associating the the different types of spiders wither the different types of canines because they share the same concept of "breed" but for visualization purposes she refers to canine with a goal to minimize or eliminate a learning barrier. Bottomline, the concept remains the same but the statistics are different.

    Sherry- I think you make a very valuable point.

  3. I like to think I'm a pretty reasonable person, that is, I resort to reason rather than passion to make my judgements. That being said, I've always had an irrational fear of spiders! I really used to "freak out" upon seeing a big ol huntsman on the ceiling, or walking through a web in one place or another. I now find myself rather at peace with "spider-kind". Mind you, it took a while, but I knew that my fears were irrational, so I made a conscious effort to accept spiders. It just so happens that I'm a macro-photography (photographing small things...go figure) hobbiest, and I've found that spiders make excellent subjects! You find the most beautiful spiders hiding under flowers. Now...I'm still startled by those giant wall-crawlers, yes...but instead of reaching for the Raid, I just walk away. And you know what happens? Nothing (except a lack of roach sightings the following night).

    It may seem an unpleasant concept, but if you're inclined to accept them, as this article states, you'll likely be no worse for the wear; and perhaps better off!

    -Converted Arachnophobe

  4. Always the shower or my bedroom. If it wans't always the shower or the bedroom being the rooms of choice then i would walk away also, but because they choose these two locations as the place of choice to appear, then noxious gas is my friend.

  5. cool now thats a nice info that i didnt cuz i just come right this minute i mean of course before i type this that i saw a spider at our bathroom like idk maybe its eating or having sex with that cockroach least now it is clear that spiders eat cockroaches too not only mosquitoes and shyt >:P

    --> Mitsui_14

  6. I love spiders---except the ones that bite animals. In all my homes, from my childhood to retirement, we sould never kill what we called a "daddy long legs". If we had to move one, we would trap him in a glass and transport him to a bettter location, e.g. the garage. The family knew that they ate bugs and not animals. Consequently, they were always welcome guest---who need not be, nor can be, comapared to our best friends, dogs.

  7. how nice that you were brought up in such an enlightened family. any critter that helps control the population of annoying bugs - flies, gnats, cockroaches, etc. - is a friend to me!

  8. I find roaches to be much more creepy than spiders. The day I saw a roach in my apartment was the day that I started to respect spiders. I saw a spider just a few minutes ago. I think I tried to communicate with it: "Feast, my friend" if there are any roaches remaining, that is.

  9. Guess what! I am going to agree here w/ DAVID. EXTREMELY valuable is his insight! And, by the way "Anonymous", I do not believe he missed the "point of the passage". As a matter-of-fact, I believe he hit the nail on the head.
    However, I personally feel spiders should just be left alone to do their 'thang'; and REFUSE to have them killed in my house. What ever another does OUTSIDE MY home, is THEIR business!

  10. I do try to appreciate spiders. In fact, I tried to befriend the ones in my garage, thanking them daily for catching all the flies i see in their web. But I am still afraid...espeically when I find a big one on my pillow! Luckly we got that big one outside with the help of my neighbors, but man, I am still scared. I think it's how quickly they move!

  11. The bad thing about spiders is: they can crawl inside your mouth or your ears when you are sleeping. That is my only concern about them. But I have to admit they do control the bugs population in my house. No other bugs are allowed! Now, I am the one who control the spiders population. When I notice it is getting out of control I pick them up (using a double piece of paper towel) and throw them away and also destroy their nests..
    They are usually thin and small so I do find them gracious.

  12. spiders are creep little buggers but after reading that they eat roaches then welcome my friends...i think dogs shouldn't even be pets they r so dirty..

    1. dogs make great companions, friends and service animals. their cleanliness depends on the care they receive from their owners/handlers.

    2. About a month ago I was helping a close friend move. And needless to say they had roaches.. I love them to death so I put the roaches off my mind when I went over there. I wouldnt go to the kitchen and my belongings stayed in the back room. and I always checked before I left. Well she was generous enough to give me her nice, used to be, $5000 bed set. the plan was to put the bed set then everything else in the uhaul. One of those 'everything elses' was her roach infested dishwasher, which she refused to leave. I was even flat out with her n told her the roaches would never end, and the dishwasher even sucked. But, still refused. In the time it took to put her belongings (not long maybe two-three hours) in storage and then get to my home, it had collected some roaches.. im really not willing or ready for an infestation. Bugs make my skin crawl. And roaches leave nasty AND stinky residue.. Ewwwww. Hell no. I want this takwn care of before its a nasty problem. What I want to know is, would a huntsman have trouble finding roaches when the population is so minute? I cant use chemical warfare due to my loving dogs. One of them cant stay outside long when its warm or hot, puts do really bad with heat. And you know dogs, they lile to be nosy and nibble on things to grasp its characteristics, just as children. I currently have a puppy, which does that quite more often then my other two. please help me. I need advice. just the thought of one roach being in my home makes me itch! I am a severe arachnephobe, but have not harmed a single spider, since discovering a roach, not even knowing if they would help. So im willing to share my home with spiders. but I too many morw species.. Plus my home already has numerous breeds (not my choosing) and idk if that would affect the livelyhood of the desired spider. Ive seen zebra jumping spiders, sprickets (not sure of the species of spider thats mixed with the cricket, but they get huge O.o), daddy long legs, and some type of spider thats grey and the back is completely round and unproportiantly large compared to the head where all the legs reside and the back sometimes has spots. hopefully you have the answers I need. Ive given you all the informatiom I know. *crossing fingers*

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  14. Huntsman spiders can live in the same house with other spiders without incident.
    They can also find a source of food even in a house with only a few cockroaches. However, even though you may not see many roaches, there are probably plenty of them hiding away. I hope you can find a source for a few huntsmans. Even though they are a large spider, they are a wonderful edition to any home as a means to safely control insect pest populations.

  15. I am 67 y.o. and when I was about 8 my Aunt Helen from Norway said that you never kill the first spider you see in a day. It's bad luck. I started that and I don't kill any of them. I think they are so graceful.

    1. I wish more people shared your view, Karen. Your Aunt Helen was a wise woman.

  16. I hope I can get a reply but I was hoping for a answer if the spider in the picture will hurt a cat cause u have 4 cat's and seen that type of spider eating a roach I didn't kill it cause I wasn't for sure if it was a bad spider or good to have so please reply back

    1. Huntsman spiders would not be interested in cats. The prey they seek are insects. If a cat caught a huntman however and was trying to kill it, it might bite in self-defense. If that happened, there'a a possibility that the bite could irritate the cat. I have no personal experience with this situation so i can't give you a definitive answer.

  17. I'm feeding a small spider as I write this

  18. I really enjoyed reading this post, big fan. Keep up the good work andplease tell me when can you publish more articles or where can I read more on the subject? Levis Killing Pest

  19. Just to let everyone know, pit bulls are one of the sweetest, most loving dog breeds. It’s the horrible owners who train them to be attack dogs or fighting dogs that gives pit bulls their bad reputation. I’m born and raised on Maui, and in Hawai’i, pit bulls are the most common amongst other breeds, even when they’re mixed breeds, and I’ve never met a sweeter soul than theirs.