Penkava: The eensey weensey spiders that ate the world

Wearing a determined expression of gritty resolve, my wife steadfastly clutched the canister vacuum under her arm as she headed down to the basement, the hose complainingly thump-thumping on the stairs behind her.

This was no ordinary visit by the Eureka Mighty Mite to the subterranean bowels of our home. This was my wife’s springtime surprise bushwhack of bugs of the eensy weensey kind; her Annual Creepy Arachnid Suction Removal Program.

As for me, I really have no problem with our eight-legged friends. In fact, most men deal as easily with the presence of a spider on the floor as they do seeing a dropped Cheeto, except they don’t eat the spider.

Women, on the other hand, have a great apprehension about spiders. Studies show 50 percent of the fairer of our species tend to freak out when they see those eight eyes staring at them, my wife being one of them.

I have only heard her scream like that a handful of times in my life, and each of those were when she was surprised by a spider. Well, that and when she saw me in the bedroom flexing my muscles in front of the mirror.

Some scientists think that fear of spiders is hereditary and actually present in babies even before birth. No wonder so many come out screaming.

Most who fear spiders perceive them as being larger and closer to us than they really are.

This paradox also is seen when husbands are shopping in the power tool section of The Home Depot.

Adding to the fear phenomenon is the observation that spiders are so ubiquitous that we are never more than a few yards away from one. Why, I even heard Neil Armstrong saw one crawling on his leg in the Apollo 11 spacecraft. That’s one giant leap for arachnids.

I suppose one of our biggest trepidations about spiders is they want to crawl into our mouths while we are sleeping. Well, I did some research on that. The figures range from three to eight spiders will be swallowed by each of us in our sleep during our lifetime, the fluctuation probably depending upon the size of our mouth.

This doesn’t make sense. Why would a spider decide to climb into your mouth? First of all, they are afraid of us. Whenever we confront them, they don’t come after us, they scurry away. Sounds and vibrations scare the web out of them. This pretty much describes a gaping-mouthed snorer. Add bad breath, and there’s no spider worth his spinneret that would venture into such a cave of horrors.

But there is something that actually worries me about spiders. I read in the Journal of Science and Nature that spiders eat between 400 million and 800 million tons of prey each year. Now, that shouldn’t bother you, unless you’re a fly or a ladybug.

Spiders are totally and ravenously carnivorous. In fact, if you filled a room with spiders, eventually you’d wind up with one big spider who ate all the others. Now this got me thinking …

What if spiders decided to change their diet? What if they started to eat us? Well, the total biomass of all humans on earth is somewhere around 300 million tons. That’s less than what the spiders eat in a year.

Which means that in a year, spiders could eat all of us and, gulp, still be hungry.

Perhaps it’s best we don’t do anything to tick them off.

So maybe, Honey, we should dial back a bit on the Eureka onslaught.

• Michael Penkava taught a bunch of kids and wrote a bunch of stuff. He discovered that the FDA allows an average of 30 or more insect parts per 100 grams of peanut butter, so most of us have already swallowed our share of Skippy the Spider. He can be reached at

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