We don’t like all those legs and their creepily erratic ways of running around2. But why? Spiders don’t try to hurt us on purpose, and almost no spiders could hurt us if they tried.3 In contrast, our fear of spiders maybe hurting us has led to everything from minor freakouts to major birth defects.4,5

It turns out that we might not be able to help ourselves. Like Lady Gaga, some of us were born this way.


Plus, people with fraidy cat family members are more likely to be fraidy cats themselves, whether or not the fraidy cats grew up together.6


But evolution and heritability aren’t the whole story.


Nature and Nurture: Still BFFs!

*Spiderzillas don’t actually exist. We made them up because spiders don’t care about us and they never want to bite us in the face unless we’re being obnoxious and bothering them with our faces, but you’d probably want to bite them in the face if they were bothering you like that, too. Well, maybe not bite them in the face. You’d probably rather take a shoe to them. But you get the idea.

By Roar and Chris Buddle. Illustrated by Christine Fleming, Buzz Hoot Roar’s Artist in Residence. Follow Christine at @might_could and check out more of her work here.

Chris Buddle is a Professor at McGill University, in Montreal Canada. Chris does research on spiders, including recent work on arachnids living in the Arctic (yup, spiders live up there, too!). He’s been working with spiders for almost two decades and has never been bitten. He blogs over at SciLogs ( about all kinds of crawly critters, and you can follow him on Twitter.

Check our facts!
  1. According to the APA, 40% of people are scared of “bugs.”
  2. The above study found that people are less afraid of being bitten by spiders than they are by their “erratic” movements and their “legginess.” But these people ( checked it out and saw that children reported spiders as their top fear (2nd is being kidnapped, 3rd is the dark). Those who were most fearful related spiders to a particular event. So it could be conditioning that results in arachnophobia.
  3. Almost no spiders will try to hurt us, and almost no spiders could hurt us if they tried:
  4. This person gave her child congenital leukaemia from spraying permethrin while pregnant:
  5. This guy was so afraid of spiders that he developed pulmonary nodules from spraying insecticide all the time:
  6. In this study ( )
  7. Twin studies ( show that people are afraid of spiders, whether or not they’ve encountered them. So spider fear is a heritable trait, but experience also plays a role.
  8. Also, people are really good at picking out spiders and snakes from the natural environment: , suggesting that this fear evolved