Mythbusters: Do you swallow spiders when you sleep?

Our resident mythbuster Jack Coles crawls into the depth of this tired myth

13th March 2017

I came across a new word last week. “Factoid”. It means a rumour that has been repeated so many times that it is considered fact, despite there being no evidence to support it. Coincidentally, it is a well-documented factoid that every year, while sleeping, a person will ingest eight flies, spiders, or copies of Shrek III on DVD.

First of all, even just by looking at that sentence that information seems dodgy. Admittedly, the DVD thing is a meme I saw last week, but something about eating eight arthropods a year in your sleep seems a little hard to believe. Personally, I only remember ingesting one insect in my entire life, and that was when a house fly flew past my nose as I was breathing in. (Even then I sneezed it back out, so it doesn’t even count.)

“Spiders aren’t exactly the most intelligent of invertebrates, but they can still make basic decisions based on hunger, finding a mate, or escaping danger”

Anyway, back to the issue at hand. Spiders aren’t exactly the most intelligent of invertebrates (that honour goes to the octopus), but they can still make basic decisions based on hunger, finding a mate, or escaping danger. Humans give off all the wrong signals for a spider to be interested. We’re not small enough to be a tasty meal, and mating-wise we’re just way out of their league. Spiders use vibrations as a measurement of danger, and guess what? We are constantly vibrating when we sleep, by breathing, from the blood flowing through our arteries, and from shivering when the heating is off. Spiders couldn’t be less interested in us if we were discussing the manufacture of model train sets.

And even if you did have a spider stupid enough to go walkabout on your face, you’d probably wake up. If you are lucky enough to occupy the same bed as another person (who happens to be alive), why not ask them to gently rub your face with a feather at 2am, while you sleep? If they think that such an activity is questionable, assure them that it is for the purposes of scientific exploration. If they still decline, then leave them, you don’t need people that reject science like that in your life. If they accept, however, you will most likely have one of the following reactions; swatting the feather away, sneezing, rolling over, or telling them to “piss off”.

Even if you did eat an arthropod, all it would be is a crunchy bit of protein to keep you going until breakfast. Tarantulas are fried with garlic and MSG in Cambodia and eaten as a snack, at the same price of a penny sweet (about 5p). Personally, I’m not keen on the idea, because spiders are mostly internal organs and very little muscle tissue; I prefer my meat to be predominantly mammalian or avian myocytes.

In all, if you’re worried about eating insects or arachnids, then avoid going to restaurants where there are a lot of comedians sat at individual tables beginning a joke with “waiter, waiter”.

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