Science Says Spiders Could Win A War With Humans

Welcome to one of my many, many fears

I don’t want to freak anyone out but the world’s spiders could eat all of humanity in one year. This is based on a scientific theory posed last year and it is in no way loosely based on a nightmare I had once had about spiders climbing into my mouth (so they could lay eggs that then hatched during a job interview. Spoiler alert: I didn’t get the job because I died of spiders exploding out of my face.)

But, as I mentioned, this isn’t just a fantasy. Much.

A pair of European biologists, Martin Nyffeler and Klaus Birkhofer, calculated that the world’s spiders eat between 700–800 million tons of prey a year. That is a lot of squirming, writhing, buzzing insects. This is part of a spider’s role in the ecosystem: to gobble up pests. *Stares directly into the camera* But what if WE’RE the real pests?

Martin and Klaus then estimated that the combined biomass of every adult human on Earth is 287 million tons. I’m no expert but the spiders could easily gobble up that much, um, biomass. And they’d still be hungry.

It’s humbling to think of humanity as just 287 million tons of spider food.

Now many things would have to happen for this highly unlikely scenario to happen. For one, the spiders would have to organize. Have a meeting, take a vote, crank out some spreadsheets. Again, I’m no expert on spider society but I’m pretty sure they don’t have one. I think spiders are loners like me in Junior High. But who knows: if given the right motivation spiders may jump at an opportunity to save the Earth from homo sapiens. We are, after all, real assholes. Have you watched cable news recently?

Luckily for spiders, they’re everywhere. It’s a real advantage. Spiders have been found in the Arctic, the desert, and, for a brief period, in my apartment. Oh, it’s a long story. I had a girlfriend once who had a pet tarantula that she asked me to babysit? Spidersit? I don’t know why she had a pet tarantula. It was the 90s — everyone either had a wallet chain, a lip piercing, or a tarantula. Anyway, I smoked a lot of hash one night and made the mistake of talking to her tarantula for a few hours. That tarantula was a really good l listener but it’s a deeply held personal belief of mine to never trust a spider. Eventually, we just chilled out to Jagged Little Pill on cassette tape over and over and over until I passed out. A few weeks later the tarantula escaped her aquarium and I shrieked. My girlfriend found the tarantula eventually but I’m pretty sure it was planning on crawling into my mouth. And now you understand a little bit more about my fears.

A recent study in North Carolina by entomologist Matthew Bertone concluded that spiders lived in 100% of urban and suburban living spaces. And, to make matters even more creepy, 68% of the bathrooms surveyed had spiders. Yeah. That’s right. There’s a good chance eight eyes watched you shower this morning. So they’ve already infiltrated our society pretty thoroughly. We live in harmony with them… for now. Harmony may be too innocuous a word. Perhaps we maintain a truce that we’re unaware could be broken?

Scientists don’t even really know how many kinds of spiders there are. Two hundred new species were discovered this year alone!

With the right game plan, they could rise up in the dead of night by the hundreds of millions and then the next thing you know, your neighborhood mail carrier is running down the street screaming, covered in spiders. Why didn’t grandma answer the phone? Oh, she’s been eaten by spiders. Like, one day you’re just living your life and the next moment you’re a skeleton and a tiny spider named Arnold is living in your skull’s ocular cavity.

There would be pockets of survivors. But how do you fight spiders with shotguns and chainsaws? You can’t. You’d secure your bunker and then take a shower and — boom — spiders. You’ve been warned. I guess the government could try to nuke the threat but that would be a pointless act of desperation. And then we could be talking about giant mutant spiders and that’s a whole other nightmare I’ve yet to have, but probably will, later tonight.

I’m just spitballing here but I think mass extinction by spiders is a simple and — if I may say — elegant solution to the human condition. I’m just saying, you know, it would be terrifying if Earth became a planet of eight-legged man-eaters but, also, a helluva lot less coal would be burned. That would be good for the climate? I don’t want humanity to disappear, but apocalypse by spiders is preferable to, say, a long and protracted apocalypse by vicious resource war. I think I’m projecting here. I’m definitely NOT rooting for the spiders. Do not, under any circumstance, write that I am rooting for the spiders. I am not. I love humanity. I love you.

I have to say it’s a bit of a relief to write about spiders rather than drone terrorism or antibiotic-proof bacteria or, you know, politics. It’s what these researchers were counting on. The world needs more media-savvy biologists and physicists and smart people, in general. They obviously knew the best way to get their arachnid research attention would be if they tied it to my personal fear of spiders. And they have. Their horror movie hypothesis has gone viral. And why not? The news is a near-constant parade of stories about war, environmental collapse, and human corruption. It’s a real breather to ponder an end of the world scenario that isn’t quite so plausible. A scenario where the little guy — the very little guy — wins.

Anyway, try to sleep with your mouth closed. I do.

Written by

Editor, Humungus. I won two James Beard Awards once for an essay about Taco Bell. Let’s be friends.

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