Did you know that you are never more than 2 feet from a spider? Or is it a foot? Or maybe it’s six inches. The point is there are a whole lot of spiders around. The other point is, they mostly keep to themselves. Otherwise, you’d know you were surrounded by them.
Whether or not, Little Miss Muffet, a spider is sitting next to you right now, when you sleep, they come out. And crawl on you. And they get into your mouth. And you swallow them. In fact, you swallow, on average, eight of them every year!
The landmark study which proved how many spiders we swallow each year began in an unassuming bedroom right next to my beachfront property in Arizona.
Do you get the point? It’s an urban legend. Something about precise numbers makes things feel so scientific. If the myth had said, “you swallow several spiders a year” it wouldn’t have had such power. Maybe you do swallow spiders in your sleep. Nobody can really prove you don’t. Now, can you imagine how hard it would be to prove that people DO swallow spiders in their sleep? And then to attach a precise number to it. Science is not a magic wand that spits out statistics. There have been absolutely no spider swallowing studies performed, ever!
Not all versions of this myth state that you are swallowing the spiders in your sleep, but most do. Regardless, it is folklore.
Is it possible for spiders to wander into bed with you at night? Yes. Is it possible for one to bite you while you sleep? Yes. However, it is extremely unlikely that a spider will come after you in your sleep. More likely is the spider just happens to walk over you, and you happen to disturb it and startle it, to which it reacts defensively. Spiders don’t tend to go after prey bigger than themselves, and certainly not hundreds of times bigger!
People have woke up and found spiders in their mouth, as well. This may indicate that once in a while a spider gets swallowed. Spiders have crawled into ear canals, too. Despite protestations of some “experts” it is not impossible that a spider might crawl into your mouth. We certainly have no scientific evidence that it happens, let alone statistics giving exact numbers of spider swallowing incidents per year. But, anecdotal experiences suggest that it does, such as these stories collected by BBC.com.
This does not mean you are likely to swallow a spider in your sleep this year. All sorts of things which CAN happen never happen.
Even more fascinating is that the myth has given rise to another associated myth of a phantom article writer who wrote an article debunking the myth and then was given credit for having derived the statistic, the exact opposite of what she set out to do. This writer, Lisa Holst, writing in PC Professional Magazine in 1993, seems to have left no evidence of her existence. Perhaps she went into the parlor.
So, what does science say about the possibility of a spider swallowing epidemic?
As stated, to say that it is impossible for a spider to wander into you mouth is stretching things a bit. It’s possible. It is just not probable. Let’s go over some salient facts as gleaned from Scientific American:
1. In North America, there are about 4 common species of house spider.
2. House spiders spend most of their time tending their web, or hunting in places where you are NOT.
3. To a spider, you are just just a big thing in the environment, like a big hill or rock or something, and they have no real interest in you (unless you mess with them, and then their interest is in getting away).
4. If a spider crawls into your bed it’s happenstance. Your bed is not a spider hunting ground. Unless you have bed bugs, which you should thank the spider for hunting.
5. When you sleep, you give off a lot of frightening vibrations! Breathing, beating heart, even snoring. To a spider, when you sleep, you’re a big scary hunk of vibrating meat. Something to avoid, not approach.
6. In order for a spider to crawl into your mouth, you’d have to be sleeping with your mouth open. And you would be breathing in an out a big warm current of air, and likely making a loud rumbling noise that we call snoring. A spider is more likely to flee this open maw of death than to decide to go spelunking.
There are myths that spiders like to crawl into mouths. You may even hear stuff like “they are attracted to the warm, moist, environment.” This is poppycock. It is not true that spiders intentionally crawl into human mouths. It is not even true that they intentionally crawl into your bed. It’s just a thing in their environment. They may wander on to it, but that is all they are doing. They aren’t looking to snuggle.
We could go a little further with some simple reasoning. Given the unlikely event that a spider ends up in your mouth, are you automatically going to swallow it? Do you swallow everything that goes into your mouth? Do you swallow your chewing gum? Only accidentally. The chewing gum, and the spider, has to end up sitting at the back of your throat in just the right way to trigger you swallowing reflex. And chances are, the gag reflex would kick in and you’d wake up! I wouldn’t imagine spiders just slide down the gullet.
Another question that comes up is what about spiders falling into your mouth. A spider might be dangling on a web just over your sleepy little head, and they might drop into your mouth. Well, spiders usually hang onto their webs, they’re not exactly into skydiving from ceiling webs. And should one happen to string a web just in the right spot, and happen to fall off its own web onto your face, the chances that it will fall right on target and into your open mouth? I don’t think so.
Then there is the nose. Some people imagine that the spider might crawl into your nose and into the back of your throat, where you end up swallowing it. This is just as unlikely as the mouth scenario, and the chances one will fall into your nose are astronomically low, wouldn’t you think? What’s more, you are quite likely to react to this nostril invasion with a violent sneeze, resulting in a spider cannon.
So, the verdict is that it is highly unlikely you’ll ever swallow a spider in your sleep. If you do, it’s a strange and random event. For evidence, all we have is anecdotes. There is no physical evidence to suggest this occurs regularly. Eight spiders a year in people’s mouth and down their throat seems pretty much impossible. Now, have you wondered whether eight seemed like a good number because of the eight legs?
While swallowing spiders in your sleep is a creepy and downright frightening thought, is probably will never happen to you, and if it does, the spider will be much worse off!
People accidentally swallowing spiders leads to another interesting question: Do People Eat Spiders as Food?