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Myth: You unknowingly swallow an average of four live spiders in your sleep each year.
Fact: This very widespread urban legend has no
basis in fact. It exists in various forms; another common version is that you
swallow an average of 20 in your lifetime. (At 4 per year, that would make a
very short lifetime of 5 years...) A correspondent in Pennsylvania had heard
a version that involved swallowing a pound of spiders (while sleeping) in one's
lifetime. (That would be over 20,000 average spiders, for a lifetime of 5,000
years at the 4 per year rate).
For a sleeping person to swallow even one live spider would involve so many highly unlikely circumstances that for practical purposes we can rule out the possibility. No such case is on formal record anywhere in scientific or medical literature.
Since this page first appeared, I have heard from one person who found a small harmless spider hiding in her ear (which is possible), two who claimed to have had one in their noses (but had no evidence that it wasn't already in the hanky), and a few who stated that years ago, when they were young children, they spat out or brushed from their mouths an object they interpreted (while still groggy with sleep) as a spider or spider leg. Those stories are so similar they may qualify as a distinct urban legend. Of course nobody ever preserved the evidence, and I remain unconvinced that a spider would visit a huge breathing monster and enter its mouth. The only credible account came from a woman who'd had a ballooning spider blow into her open mouth in a grassy field on a windy day – but that, too, happened when she was a child!
Myth: Spiders drink moisture from the mouths or lips of sleeping humans.
Fact: I have heard this legend verbally but it does not seem to be recorded in print anywhere. A variant that one person claimed to have heard on TV is that "a spider will drink from your eye (while you sleep) 3 times in your life." It is probably just a variation on the "swallowing live spiders in your sleep" legend; like that one, it has no basis in fact.
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2003-2008, Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture,
University of Washington, Box 353010, Seattle, WA 98195, USA
Photos © as credited
to Spider Myths author, Rod Crawford
This page last updated 2 September, 2010
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