Spiders are about as ‘other’ a life form can get while still being instantly recognizable as a fellow animal. Too many legs, too many eyes, and two venomous fangs: it’s little wonder that spiders give so many of us the heebie-jeebies. There’s no objective way to rank the ‘scariest’ spiders, but I’m all for a bit of show-and-tell when it comes to arachnophobia. Here are, for my money, the three scariest spiders in the world.
1. Sydney Funnel-web (Atrax robustus)
This species exemplifies Australia’s particular penchant for venomous life forms (they also have blue-ringed octopuses, a slew of venomous snakes, platypuses, and sea wasps, among others). It is also the single scariest spider I have ever seen. I’ll let a picture do most of the work.
This species offers a terrifying triple-threat: gigantic fangs, an aggressive disposition, and extremely potent venom.
Their fangs are large enough that they can punch through a toenail, and a bite would be bad enough even without venom. Furthermore, males go wandering in search of mates, which often brings them into contact with humans. When encountered, they are notoriously brazen, often biting multiple times and almost always delivering a full envenomation. Their venom is potent enough that at least one small child died within 15 minutes of a bite. On the upside, antivenom was developed in 1981, and there have been no recorded fatalities since.
2. Brown Recluse (Loxosceles recluse)
The brown recluse is less outwardly intimidating than the funnel-web, but the fear it instills is, in some ways, far more insidious. I don’t fear brown recluses because they are large (they’re not), or because they are aggressive (rather the opposite). I fear them for one reason, and one reason alone: necrosis.
Bites from recluses are rare to begin with, usually occurring because the spider was mixed up in clothing or bedding. Even when bites do occur, most are minor and exhibit no necrosis. But on rare occasions, brown recluse bites—which are practically painless to begin with—can become necrotic, the tissue around the bite dying as the bite site becomes a necrotizing ulcer. Such necrotic bites can take months to heal, leaving victims deeply scarred.
Even less frequently, the bite can trigger system reactions, resulting in a variety of symptoms from mild (nausea) to severe (hemolysis). It’s these system reactions that are usually responsible for fatalities, most frequently in the very old, very young, or the infirm.
3. Black Widow
I included the black widow here mostly out of deference to its fame. The amount of public ill-will toward this diminutive, retiring spider is completely out of proportion to the actual danger they represent. Like it or not, though, its reputation precedes it: that scarlet hourglass is inexorably linked to ‘danger’ in our cultural consciousness.
There are a half-dozen separate species which go by the moniker ‘black widow’, and all of them are venomous (as, indeed, are all spiders), but not all are dangerous to humans. Though female black widows are frequently described as ‘the most venomous spider in North America’, fatalities are very rare (one site lists mortality at less than 1 per cent). Often, bites don’t even break the skin.
When somebody is bitten, the result is usually some severe pain and discomfort, but as with the brown recluse, fatalities are most common in the young and elderly. More serious reactions to bites may include dizziness and fainting. The worst cases usually involve elevated heart rate and blood pressure, which can lead (very rarely) to lethal cardiovascular complications.
To be fair, black widows are not worth very much fear. In fact, fatalities from all three of these species are exceedingly rare, especially thanks to modern medical care and antivenom. It’s trite but true: spiders have a lot more to fear from us than we do from them.
After all, spider mortality rates from human boots are nearly 100 per cent.
CITATIONS & FURTHER READING
I can vouch for the brown recluse being scary. My husband got bit on the top of his hand by one. It turned into this big hole that caused him a lot of pain. Initially we didn’t know what was wrong so we tried treating it like an infected cut. Eventually the pain got so bad that we had to take him to the emergency room. They put him on an antibiotic drip and kept him overnight. The next morning they cut open the wound, and swabbed around under the skin. I don’t know exactly what they did, but it was difficult to watch. He still has a wicked scar.
Your anecdote just reminds me how incredibly thankful I am not to be writing from experience on the topic of brown recluse bites. I’m just glad your husband came through alright.
I think the camel spider is one of the scariest. They can move up to 10mph and their bites are extremely painful and almost always cause infection. They are found in the Middle East, and thrive in desert environments.
Here is a picture from Iraq of 2 of them attached together…one was found in a soldier’s sleeping bag….
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