Fun Facts: Venom Mythbusting!

Spiders

There is a widespread myth that daddy longlegs (also known as harvestmen) are the most venomous spiders in the world, and that humans are only safe from their bite because their fangs are not able to break through human skin. Luckily, both parts of this myth are completely false! In this post we examine the truth behind the myths!

There are two types of creatures that are referred to as "daddy long legs": Opillionid arachnids that are not actually spiders and pholcids which are true spiders. These arachnids are very similar in appearance, leading to the misconception that they are the same organism. Opillionids have one pill-shaped body segment with 8 long and slender legs whereas pholcids have two slim body segments and long legs.

Image from: https://ro.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opiliones

Image from: https://ro.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opiliones

 

Opilionids are true daddy long legs that live in dark, moist places, such as under logs and rocks, eating mostly decomposing plant and animal matter. Opilionids are not often seen by humans because of their discrete habitats, unless they are turning over logs or rocks. Some have defensive secretions that may be poisonous if ingested by small animals, but are harmless to humans. These arachnids lack fangs and venom glands, so they have no way to chemically subdue their food.  Therefore, it is impossible for them to produce venom-proving that this myth is clearly false for these daddy longlegs.  

Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pholcidae

Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pholcidae

Pholcids are known as "daddy longlegs spiders" or cellar spiders, and are venomous predators with short fangs that can theoretically pierce human skin. These creatures rarely bite, and there has been little research to determine the toxicity of their venom for humans. This myth was tested on an episode of the TV show, Mythbusters, where they coaxed a daddy longlegs spider to bite Adam, the shows co-host. The spider was able to penetrate his skin, but the venom only triggered a mild burning sensation that lasted a few seconds. As they say on Mythbusters: this myth is busted!

Snakes

Many people are afraid of snakes, as there are numerous species that possess deadly venom, some of which are in Canada. Some people fear that garter snakes are included in this category of dangerous venomous snakes. Fortunately, this is not the case!

Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garter_snake

Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garter_snake

Garter snakes are very common in North America, with six species found across Canada. These snakes are brown to black in colour, with yellow, orange or red stripes running down their backs. Garter snakes are relatively small, typically growing to a length between 23 and 50 inches, with a slender to moderately-stout body.

Most species of garter snakes are harmless (non-venomous) however, their bite can cause minor swelling and itching in humans. Some species do have a mild neurotoxic venom but it is not harmful to humans. Myth busted!