I have recently revealed in this space that I mistook a perfectly ordinary eruption of herpes pustules on my butt for spider bites for literally years, until it occurred to me to wonder why I always roll over on a spider in exactly the same location. I have nothing to offer in my own defense except to say that upon occasion I do get bitten by authentic spiders. I do. I just did.
I know this is an authentic spider bite because I caught the perpetrator red-handed, -handed, -handed, -handed, -handed, -handed, -handed, -handed. First I noticed a tiny prick on my arm, which, over the years, I have learned to ignore. When I did decide to investigate, I lifted my arm and this tiny spider crawled out from under. He was an ordinary house spider, Parasteatoda tepidariorum ssp. itsy-bitsy.
Initially I assumed it was a female, out of respect for Charlotte (who was a very good writer), and I always assumed the males were lying low so as not to get et by the females. It turns out that one study found that 82% of house spiders a person is likely to encounter are males. It is thus assumed because the females are staying put minding their own business and the males are all over the place looking for the females so they can have sex right before dying. Anyway what with one thing and another I don’t worry too much about misgendering the local buggage. This one was quite small. I flicked it into the room. A couple minutes later I had a look at my arm again and sure enough there was not one but two bites, and they itched, and they kind of hurt.
It was a pretty impressive feat for such an eensy little job.
I’m not mad. Spiders have developed venom (the patent goes back 300 million years) mostly to subdue prey, and I’m not spider prey. I’m merely a gigantic fleshy death zeppelin that landed on the poor thing and I can’t blame it for objecting. I’ve never had a particular fear of spiders in general and the statistics bear out my tolerance: spiders account for about five human deaths a year, worldwide. Although, as some might point out, those five are 100% dead. At five deaths a year, odds are very good those people are not you. Now, the odds might go up a bit if the predicted plagues, wars, and famines reduce our population. Also, for the purposes of epidemiological simplicity, the total does not include deaths from the willies.
Two days later, with the small welts still festering and itching, I decided to look up what is in spider venom and how it does what it does. Unfortunately, my ability to understand the scientific literature has foundered a bit since the internet ruined my ability to pay attention. I can report that in the barrel pore model, multiple antimicrobial peptides oligomerize and insert perpendicularly into the cell membrane, forming a pore where the hydrophilic region of the alpha-helices face the center of the pore. Also, the venom is composed of nasties and ick. Beyond that, y’all are on your own.
I remain impressed. I’m wondering if he had to flip upside-down to bite me, which seems to me to add to the degree of difficulty. And most of all I wonder how something the size of a pencil eraser can get its little mouth open far enough to do any damage. Lacking further research, I’m assuming it has sort of a slimy-drippy fangs-within-fangs thing going on with multiple sets of jaws unhinging in sequence, like in Alien. Which is super cool as long as it stays miniaturized.
Whatever the methodology employed, the little nimrod has had an impact far outstripping his personal avoirdupois. Bravo, Parasteatodum. Next time I see you I’m going to give you a high-eight. Brace yourself.