Health

How many spiders do we swallow in our sleep?

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Woman with spider
How many spiders does a person swallow in their sleep? Ignore the numerous theories throughout the Web - your answer is right here
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Proof is fuzzy regarding arachnid invaders.

Swallowing a South American bird-eating spider that weighs almost half a pound might take some doing, especially if the swallower is a person soundly asleep. However, there is an arachnid native to Borneo—a spider the size of a pinhead—that easily could crawl into the heaving mouth of any sleeping person. Anything is possible. Or, is it?

 

In between these eight-legged extremes, there are nearly 40,000 more species of spiders that have the ability to crawl into the gaping maw of moisture that is the mouth of a person deep asleep. Whether most spiders would want to do so is quite another question. A spider is sensitive to motion and the blast of air exiting a dark hole during a sleeper's breathing cycles would seem to exclude that dark cavity as a safe place to hide—or explore.

 

How aggressive are spiders?

 

Crawling onto the lips of a sleeping person probably would result in death by swat. A foray past the lips would trigger a sleeping person's quick wake-up and a noisy splutter. But really, how many spiders does a person swallow in their sleep? A one-time event would seem to be enough to cure anyone of sleeping with their mouth open.

 

An open mouth will be ignored by most spiders. The venom of a Black Widow spider is potent enough to kill, in some circumstances. But the spider is bashful and solitary. It prefers to live outdoors and is reluctant to bite unless sat upon or accidentally semi-squished in some other way. The species is an unlikely candidate for crossing undetected the vast tundra of a sleeper's face.

 

Another deadly squatter is the Brown Recluse spider. This leggy little arachnid lives mostly in the Midwest. There are potent bug-dissolving enzymes in its venom that causes flesh at the site of a bite to begin decaying within 24 hours. Fortunately, this spider's disdain for human contact precludes it from being attracted in the least to the heaving chest of a sleeping victim.

 


Who tracks spider-swallowing statistics?

 

So, how many spiders does a person swallow in their sleep? Is there a collection of entomology reports that chronicle the annual ingestions of arachnids by human beings? Is there an obituary archive kept by the furry elders of the spider community—an archive that memorializes the various spider brethren lost in epiglottis-related accidents? Who keeps track? How many spiders does a person swallow in their sleep?

 

Certainly, some amount of insects and insect parts are ingested as canned, processed and bug-ridden fruits and vegetables are eaten by unwitting consumers. Various laws allow a certain percentage of such freeloaders, whose presence is deemed innocuous. Through the mill and into the can—or the frozen block of broccoli—go lots of leggy hitchhikers.

 

Is a sleeping person defenseless?

 

How does anybody swallow a spider in the first place? Wouldn't one feel the spider walking across their face? Isn't it a natural reaction to brush away a foreign object the minute it touches the lips? Maybe the spider-eater is extra tired—or inebriated from alcohol or drugs. Maybe the person is just a sound sleeper. Or, maybe the spider is light on its—eight—feet.

 

According to any reputable medical text, the lips have a lush supply of nerve endings. Indeed, the lips host a complicated network of nerves whose sensitivity is an anatomical marvel. It is nerves that detect coffee that's too hot. Nerves reveal the presence of dribbled jelly. Wouldn't a spider galumphing across the dermis give cause enough to wake the dead? Or, the soundly sleeping?

 

Where did the spider inquiry originate?

 

According to various sources in cyberspace, there are many answers to the question: how many spiders does a person swallow in their sleep? The answer is eight—or four or six—or some such number meant to trigger incredulity—and the legend's longevity. In fact, it is reported that in 1993 a columnist for a computing magazine purposely planted the question, based on spider lore extracted from an old book. The intentional propagation of the spider ingestion question was meant to illustrate the gullibility of the public. Instead, it became planted more firmly than ever in the annals of the inane. And in reality, the legend about swallowing spiders is one that's got…no legs.


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