It's August, and that means one thing in warmer climates: people spend more time in nature, and nature, in turn, tries to bite them. August is mosquito season, it's snakebite season—hell, even Shark Week is in summer. But lots of the thing we know about summer's flesh-nibbling threats are dead wrong, and that's why we have Ken Jennings from Jeopardy! lurking here in the underbrush to tell us, at long last, the real truth about summer's bitey pests.
The Debunker: Would "Daddy Long-legs" Venom Be Incredibly Dangerous If One Could Actually Bite You?
Most spider bites, frankly, are bunk. A 2012 study in California found that, of 182 people who had sought medical attention for a spider bite, just 3.8 percent had actually been bitten by a spider. About ten percent had been bitten by something else—fleas, bedbugs, etc.—while the overwhelming majority, 86 percent, had been bitten by nothing at all. They just had some kind of skin infection.
Black widows and brown recluses and all the usual suspects don't actually do that much damage either. You can count on one hand the number of spider bite deaths in the United States over the past decade. A longstanding legend holds that the deadliest arachnid venom of all belongs to the innocent daddy long-legs—but its stubby fans make it effectively harmless to humans.
"Daddy long-legs" actually belong to two separate orders of arachnids: phocids, which are a type of spider, and harvestmen, which are not. Spider expert Rick Vetter reports that the legend is false in both cases. Harvestmen have no venom glands or fangs at all. Phocids have uncate (hook-shaped) fangs just like a brown recluse, but their venom isn't particularly effective even on insects. Humans who have been bitten report no ill effects at all, apart from brief, mild discomfort. (That's my favorite kind of discomfort!) So that debunks both ends of the myth: not only are daddy long-legs perfectly capable of biting you, they don't particularly care to, and they're not particularly harmful when they do. Talk about overhyped. Who's your daddy now?
Quick Quiz: Speaking of daddies with long legs, who was the first father-son combo in NBA history to win multiple championships—dad with Portland and Boston, and son with the Lakers?
Ken Jennings is the author of eleven books, most recently his Junior Genius Guides, Because I Said So!, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.