Let’s start with a good round of blame. Blame the Internet! Blame ignorance! Blame visceral fears our species has been lugging around since we lived next door to the Flintstones! There, that felt good. I’m launching this blamefest because accurate information about spiders just doesn’t seem to get through, or to stick around, or to withstand its turbid journey through the online sloughs, and I’m sure there are reasons that don’t reflect badly on the hive mind but at the moment I can’t think of any.
Sure, spider information is better than it used to be. A decade ago, where were the smart arachnophiles swatting down myths and hysteria? Scarcer than a white black widow. Now you can find such smart people out there, patiently weaving their way through the intellectually toothless carnies in the midway called “Reader Comments.” There are scientists and wildlife experts, doctors, gardeners who like to know their microcosms and the inhabitants therein, and people just happy to see data driving out drivel. Still … it’s not an arachnophilic world. Dopey spider postings pop up every day. Like this one:
[A blogger dubbed “Reality Steve” dishes about an episode of “The Bachelor”]
Was given some inside information regarding the “extras” scene from this week. You know, the one where they showed Ben and Courtney on the temple and Terry the tarantula that they befriended. You see that thing crawling all up and down Courtney’s arm. Blech. I will have you know that my sources informed me the tarantula actually bit into Courtney pretty good and started sucking the blood right out of her, which immediately then had an ambulance on scene and things got messy with people being transported to the hospital. And it’s with a heavy heart that I have to be the one to break the news to everyone, but on the way to the hospital, Terry the tarantula passed away due to blood poisoning. He will be missed.
Zing! Actually pretty funny, you Reality Steve. I get it. Apparently Courtney Whoever occupies the coveted reality TV role of The Man-Eating Skank. But soon this gem was cross-posted on other entertainment sites by people who believed it. Yeah, the blood-sucking. Hospitalization. Death by poisoned blood.
How do I know? Reality Steve became Astounded Steve and said so:
As far as Terry the tarantula, now that caught me completely off guard. I’m shocked at how many people read that paragraph and thought I was serious that that tarantula sucked out Courtney’s blood then died from blood poisoning. I thought it was written so ridiculously and so sarcastically that people couldn’t possibly believe that was true. Guess I was wrong. People were emailing me cheering that they’d heard the tarantula bit her. Unreal.
A mixed bag, I guess. The foolish re-posters pulled down their ripped-off gossip, and Reality Steve sounds like he might have one foot in reality after all. The tarantula calumny vanished. But still, why did it jerk a knee? Who would have bit on that tale if it had been a dog bite or (much more plausible, given the sucking) a mosquito?
So that’s the thing. Harmless big spider gets accused of vampirism because it would if it could. Just like those black widows, lurking in grapes not because they got caught up in the harvest and kidnapped into a refrigerated shipping container and plopped into an English supermarket, but because they want to murder your children. Your fair British children. Not just malign intent, but malign fantasy powers—none of it plausible, but spiders are the creatures from whom everyone expects the worst. That’s one myth. Let’s bust it up.