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Ask Your Weird Animal Questions: What Happens If You Swallow a Spider?

Would you die if you were to swallow a poisonous spider whole and alive? Would it bite your internal organs? —Anthony Gomes

No reason for arachnophobia here: Ingesting a spider, even a venomous one, isn’t really a worry, said Christopher Buddle, a spider expert at McGill University in Canada.

A photo of a brown recluse spider.
The brown recluse spider (Loxosceles reclusa) is a venomous species found in the U.S. South and Midwest. Photograph by Visuals Unlimited, Corbis

“If you do swallow a spider, even one that’s potentially venomous, I don’t think it would have the reaction time to bite as it’s moving down the esophagus, and certainly wouldn’t have any chance once [it’s] in your stomach acid,” Buddle said.

“No spiders are known to be poisonous—which would mean you get sick if you breathe them in or eat them—but they all have venom” that’s meant for smaller prey, Buddle added. (Also see “Fish-Eating Spiders Can Catch Prey 5 Times Their Size.”)

A few spider species are dangerous to humans, including black widows and their kin and the brown recluse. (Related: “Ask Your Weird Animal Questions: Spiders and Other Animals With Bite.”)

Buddle added that spiders get a bum rap as biters, but in fact the arachnids bite people only when they’re in compressed places or surprised by us, like when you put your foot in an already occupied shoe.

“If a spider does wander into your mouth while you’re sleeping, he’ll probably just wander away again,” he laughs, unless “you’re swallowing a lot of other bugs… There might be a good meal in it.”

I would like to send a picture of a snake to know what type of snake it is and if it is venomous. —Busola Holloway, Nigeria

We forwarded Busola’s photo to Kate Jackson, a biologist at Whitman College in Washington State, who identified it as Thelotornis kirtlandii, a venomous reptile commonly known as a vine, twig, or bird snake.

A photo of a twig snake.
A twig snake (Thelotornis capensis) is seen in iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa, in 2008. Photograph by Jelger Herder, Buiten-beeld/Minden Pictures/Corbis

“We would consider this as a snake that’s potentially dangerous to humans,” Jackson said, though humans seldom get “mixed up with them” because the snakes live in trees and eat birds.

Jackson says the snake should simply be left alone. “It’s not something that people are likely to step on in the night or put their hand on in a small place and get bitten by,” she said.

It’s easy to tell where this species gets its common names, she added. The reptile “has a way of staying very still in a kind of awkward kind of position for a snake, which has the effect of making it look like a twig,” Jackson says. (Also see “Amazing Video: Inside the World’s Largest Gathering of Snakes.”)

The snake also hunt birds “by staying still and wiggling its little red tongue as a kind of lure, and they go, ‘What’s that? A caterpillar or a worm?’ And as they’re peering at it, they get bitten.”

Tell me, can murmurations [of starlings] be also smaller groups of birds? —Shannon, Chicago

This question came from the story “Strength in Numbers, 5 Amazing Animal Swarms,” which explains the unified movements of flocks of starlings, called “murmurations,” which can involve tens of thousands of the birds.

Marc Devokaitis of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in New York said via email that scientists tend to call any group of birds a “flock” or, if they’re on the water, a “raft.”

A photo of a huge flock of starlings in the Netherlands.
A common starling (Sturnus vulgaris) flock in Lauwersmeer, the Netherlands, in 2011. Photograph by Mark Schuurman, Buiten-beeld/Minden Pictures/Corbis

He said there are no hard and fast rules as to what constitutes a flock, but “flocking behavior can start organically with as few as two birds.” (See National Geographic’s bird pictures.)

There’s also what’s called a “mixed foraging flock,” or a group of diverse species looking for food in the same area.

Devokaitis added that—like other words we use for groups of birds—the term “murmuration” is “more poetic than scientific.”

Indeed, we do take to flights of fancy when it comes to describing birds en masse. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, many larks are an “exultation,” a group of owls is a “parliament,” and several crows, of course, are a “murder.”

Got a question about the weird and wild animal world? Tweet me or leave me a note or photo in the comments below. You can also follow me on Facebook.

Comments

  1. anna
    November 6, 11:42 am

    i want to be a arachnoligist when i grow up.

  2. anna
    united states,bryan ohio
    November 6, 11:39 am

    when i grow up i want to be a arachnoligist my other freind wants to study plants and a lot of my other freinds say i’m a exspert but i don’t know every thing.

  3. UUUU
    Australia
    July 28, 9:51 pm

    I ate an apple with a spider in it
    it wasn’t alive
    i dont know what will happen
    I don’t even know if i ate the spider
    Please help

  4. guddu
    delhi
    April 3, 3:53 am

    wwwwwwwwwooooooooowwwwwww

  5. Conrad
    unknown
    March 24, 5:33 am

    i know a song that will get on your nerves, get on your nerves, get on your nerves, i know a song that will get on your nerves get get get on your nerves

  6. Jeff
    TAcoma, Washington
    February 9, 5:01 pm

    If an animal eats a venomous snake, why doesn’t it get sick from the venom? If the inside of animal’s mouth were to get punctured by a snake’s fang while eating the snake, would it have the same effect as a bit?

  7. Thabang Tsobane
    South africa
    January 25, 4:39 am

    I found a spider on my car last night….1st time i see that kind can anybody identify it and give information about it
    I need help how do i upload a picture of this spider

  8. timmy
    london
    January 6, 5:31 pm

    OMG I JUST ATE A TINT SPIDER AND THOUGHT WHAT WILL HAPPEN I WAS TOLD NOT TO BE STUPID ITS JUST A SPIDER AND THEN 4 HOURS LATER I FELT SOMETHING IN MY MOUTH BURST AND DIDNT KNOW WHAT IT WAS, WELL ANYWAY A LOAD OF TINY SPIDERS CAME RUSHING OUT MY MOUTH AND IM NOW IN A&E SO DONT DO IT!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Kiley Briggs
    Brownsville, TX
    August 8, 2015, 2:52 am

    Jut an FYI:
    Tonight I accidentally swallowed a spinybacked orb weaver spider and it bit me in my esophagus a little below my Adam’s apple. There is no swelling (the species is generally harmless), but the bite hurts more than I would expect and my right ear feels like it needs to pop, but i won’t pop. Overall I’d consider this to be one of the least pleasant experience of my year so far.

  10. chloe dawkins
    Lake george
    July 21, 2015, 2:30 pm

    Hi! I fell asleep outside an I think I may have swallowed a mexican black tar heroin spider, i felt an explosion in my stomach and things are crawling up my esophagus,
    help

  11. Theresa
    Louisiana
    May 8, 2015, 2:17 am

    After supper I noticed a dead spider floating in my cooking grease. I also noticed it was fried up. Will anything happen to my family

  12. Liz Langley
    September 9, 2014, 11:10 am

    @AmandI

    Wow, that’s crazy! Do you know what kind of spider? Thanks for sharing the story.

  13. AmandI
    Maryland
    September 9, 2014, 7:33 am

    I once inhaled a spider . What a surprise ! It got caught on my tonsil and bit me! Eventually I had to go to a throat specialist and have the little infected area–like a pimple — cut out! One of the weirder episodes of my life.

  14. Liz Langley
    September 8, 2014, 11:08 pm

    @Heather S
    @Snorre Tonset

    Snorre, Heather S is exactly right…and they have 8 eyes. 🙂
    Here’s a NatGeo video about how their vision works, and shows how fast they are, too!
    http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/jumping-spider-vision-vin-test-2200?source=relatedvideo

  15. Heather S
    Oregon, US
    September 8, 2014, 8:32 pm

    Snorre Tonset,

    I’m not Liz or an expert, but that looks like a jumping spider. They are quite neat and kind of cute. Here is some info.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jumping_spider

  16. Snorre Tonset
    Oslo
    September 7, 2014, 4:26 pm

    Hi Liz. I really don´t know much about spiders. But today i saw this little one – about 2 mm big. When I took a picture of it trying to leave a glass where I trapped it, it was stunning: Lots of hair an at least six eyes. That is: Two eyes in the front of the head and two more on each side of the head. So I wonder: Does it have six eyes or does it only look like it? https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-xpa1/v/t1.0-9/1521957_10152253254031610_2243453989510323203_n.jpg?oh=f52a51ca41df20e0712b76245a5d9372&oe=54A51400&__gda__=1418188650_9690c66129c6ec33020f6550a5e1828d

  17. bezawit
    ethiopia
    September 4, 2014, 11:58 am

    good explanation

  18. amit
    Delhi
    September 3, 2014, 8:55 pm

    Nice!!