Why I Never Kill Spiders (and Why Pros Say That’s Totally OK)
As an environmental enthusiast, I’ve never been one for killing bugs. I’ve always been the friend called on to remove spiders from the room, the one who has to talk down a nervous person screaming “Kill it!!!!‘, the perpetual advocate for the catch-and-release method. To the dismay of many friends who find this practice unnecessary at best and unhygienic at worst, killing bugs has never felt right to me—as humans, we’re just another species in the complex, ahem, web of life. If we can coexist with insects when we’re outside, what gives us the right to kill them off when the odd one is found indoors?
A few months ago, however, this instinct was challenged. A little spider appeared in the windowsill at the top of my bed, perched in a miraculous, delicate web, and to my own surprise, I was repulsed. It was tiny, and likely harmless, but I was immediately scared of it: It’s one thing for a spider to hide in the corner of a room, out of sight, but it’s wholly another for one to camp out mere inches away from where I put my head down every night. Despite my affinity for natural things, I had to talk myself out of getting rid of my new eight-legged neighbor.
Eventually, after much self-talk, I opted to leave it be. And after reading up on the pest-management potential that most species of spider present to the average home, I’m glad I did.
Turns out, much of our natural instinct to eliminate the bugs in our homes is unfounded. According to Dr. Brittany Campbell, entomologist with the National Pest Management Association, the odds that the spider lurking in the corner of your room will hurt you are incredibly slim.
“There’s a misperception of spiders,” Dr. Campbell says. “There are just a handful of species that can really hurt people, but because of this fear that has really been perpetuated in general, the general public fears spiders more than is probably necessary.”
In fact, the majority of spiders prey on other bugs, some of which may be harming you or your plants, like aphids, gnats, and mites. A 2017 study found that the world’s spiders are collectively responsible for eating an estimated 400 to 800-million tons of insects each year. The ones in your house are feeding on everything from regular pests—like beetles and moths that get into your food or clothing—to disease-carrying insects like mosquitos. A friendly spider or two is likely playing a vital role in keeping your home pest-free.
“The majority of spiders in and around the home are pretty harmless,” Dr. Campbell says. “They’re not really going to fight unless they’re aggravated. And they are predators, so they will prey on other insects inside the home and potentially pest species inside of your house as well.”
In fact, a 2016 survey of 50 North Carolina houses found spiders in each one, the most common species being cobweb spiders and cellar spiders, both of which prey on other spiders and insects, rather than humans.
“If you can stomach it, it’s okay to have spiders in your home,” Dr. Matthew Bertone, professor in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at North Carolina State University and author of the study, wrote in a 2018 op-ed in the Washington Post. “In fact, it’s normal. And frankly, even if you don’t see them, they’ll still be there. So consider a live-and-let-live approach to the next spider you encounter.”
According to Dr. Campbell, there are only two species of poisonous spider likely to appear in a home—the brown recluse and the black widow—and their odds of showing up are minimal. “I mean we’re talking two species of probably hundreds of species that could be found in and around your house,” she says.
Dr. Campbell assures that these species are likely only dwelling in dark corners of your home, like your attic or garage, out of the way. The occasional spider will camp out in your shoes, she notes, so if you’re really worried, it’s worth giving them a shake every once in a while. And while they’re uncommon and seldom cause serious health issues, bites should be examined by a medical professional. (Of course, if you do suspect that you’ve found poisonous species in your house, it’s best to consult a pro.)
She also warns against getting too cozy with spiders and insects, of course; it’s never a good idea to go out hunting for spiders to introduce into your home as a method of pest control, Dr. Campbell says. This comfort should really only extend to the occasional spider you find already living in your home—and if you’re roommates with more than a few insects, you might have a problem on your hands. Insects love dark, wet, or cluttered spaces and bits of decaying food, so if you find more than a few, it’s worth giving your space a deep clean to find the source. Your home may also have a few too many openings to the outdoors, so recurring bug problems could be an indication of some cracks that need filling. If you’re seeing more pests than you’re comfortable with, or think there might be a larger problem at play, bring in a pro to assess the situation.
But when it comes to the occasional arachnid, keeping them around is not a bad idea. And if you’re fighting the urge to kill, it may be helpful to remember the golden rule of creepy crawlies: They’re more afraid of you than you are of them. “Spiders are not out to get you,” Dr. Bertone writes. “[They] actually prefer to avoid humans; we are much more dangerous to them than vice versa.”
So this winter, as insects seek shelter in the warmth of your house, remember that spiders are an important part of any ecosystem, and at a minimum, should be kept alive. If you can’t live with them indoors, consider a gentle catch-and-release technique: They’ll do more good alive, outdoors, than they will dead, inside your home. This winter, like Dr. Bertone suggests, live and let live.