Our Head of Entomology, Dr Simon Carpenter, suggests some creepy crawly alternatives to the usual Halloween spider clichés...
It’s been a big few months for our friends from the order Araneae, or just plain spiders to the non-Arachnologists among you. We’ve had Billie Eilish tearing it up with tens of millions of views on YouTube for her arachnophobe-baiting song ‘You should see me in a crown’1. We’ve had the annual False Widow panic. We’ve waded through the usual ‘Banatula’-style tabloid-style headlines describing furry visitors in the exotic fruit section of supermarkets. We’ve also seen spiders launch a campaign of terror against Ipswich, although it remains unclear whether this was some sort of first contact communication event between human and invertebrate2. So, in the spirit of rewarding hard work, we are inviting the eight-legged freaks to put their feet up (well, at least a few of them), stretch out their pedipalps and relax this Halloween. In their place, here are some of their less well known relations who deserve a bit more attention during the annual fright fest.
1Don’t try it at home, kids
1. ScorpionesScorpions are first off the rank among the Arachnids for their place in popular culture, including a memorable Ray Harryhausen stop-motion cameo in ‘Clash of the Titans’, a leading part in ‘50’s sci-fi flick ‘The Black Scorpion’ and loaning their name to a German rock band who also seem increasingly likely to be one of the few things likely to survive a nuclear apocalypse (still touring, apparently). Scorpions kill a few thousand people each year from their stings, vastly more than spiders, although most of these occur through their preference for nice warm, dark places like the inside of shoes. The risk of death by arachnid is about eight times less likely than being hit by lightning, using the standard (and slightly morbid) method of comparing rare fatal events. Ironically, the larger and more fearsome looking species of scorpion that scuttle around in popular imagination tend to be less dangerous. This culminates in the Emperor scorpion (Pandinus imperator), which is docile, only inflicts a mild sting and enjoys classical music on its days off. Due to this, it has been collected as a pet for years and is now sadly CITES-listed as a result.
2. SolifugaeThe Solifugae, or camel spiders, are not spiders but this salient fact usually gets lost in people pointing and yelling like a football manager threatened with imminent relegation. With a leg-span of up to 12cm and armed with huge fangs and a decent turn of speed, camel spiders have been the cause of a whole raft of ludicrous urban myths succinctly summarised elsewhere, including disembowelling their namesakes. Unlike spiders, they do not have a poisonous bite and rely on their powerful jaws to kill prey. While these can inflict a painful nip if provoked, they pose no threat to humans and it’s best to keep in mind that through their eight eyes you probably look like King Kong, ready to stomp some people on Skull Island. So, put down the broom and the insecticide, get down off the chair and stay calm.
3. OpilionesOne of a range of completely inoffensive and unrelated creatures known colloquially as ‘Daddy long-legs’, the Opiliones or harvestmen haven’t bothered evolving much for a few hundred million years and, to be honest, not very many people have noticed. Oddly, they still seem to provide the ‘yuk’ factor to many, despite looking noticeably different to spiders of the same size, not least in their odd, clockwork-like bobbing movements. Harvestmen are also sometimes the focus of another urban myth that claims that their poison is utterly lethal to humans, but they are so lacking in the fang department that they can’t deliver it through their victim’s skin. This ignores the fact that, unlike spiders, they do not have a poisonous bite at all. All in all, Opinoids are probably not a great target for b movie stardom, particularly given a slightly embarrassing propensity to shed their legs in any mildly threatening situation.