A Defense of the Common House Spider

Meg Conley
6 min readFeb 23, 2021
House spider illustration from, Who Were the First Weavers? A children’s book, 1874

Did you know that some house spiders can live up to seven years?

I didn’t know.

Whenever I’ve seen a spider crawl across my wall, move the tips of its spindled legs out of my shower drain or scuttle beneath a cabinet I’ve….well, I’ve killed it. I mean, when my creature-loving daughter is in the room, I carefully catch them and put them outside. But when I am alone? When there are no witnesses? I am moved to murder.

I kill spiders, generally speaking, with one of two methods. The first is catch and kill. Best deployed in kitchens and bathrooms — really anywhere tissues, toilet paper or paper towels are within reach. A quick handful of paper, followed by a darted gathering of the spider in its folds and then pinch, once. I don’t care for this method. There is something about the pop of the cephalothorax, the aftermath of a smear attended by legs that feels too intimate. Much better to kill a spider with the quick, hard tap of an old, rolled up Economist. There have been more creative solutions born of urgency, of course. A lone shoe can kill a spider, as can a sudden gush of water from the bath faucet, so can, in one especially shameful moment, your child’s favorite blanket. Spider guts and legs wash off of everything! This is convenient since pretty much everything can kill a spider.

I suppose I thought spiders lived for a few months. A quick life gave me permission to dispatch a quick death. Why does it seem more ethical to kill a short-lived thing and less ethical to kill a long-lived thing? I didn’t hesitate to take a month off an assumed six month spider life. Such a share of spider existence taken by tissue! But seven years? I’m hard pressed to justify removing a day from that span. I know this shift makes no sense! But the vague convictions that direct most of our actions rarely do. I just can’t kill something that’s lived in my home longer than my youngest child.

House spiders don’t hurt us, you know. Even black widows haven’t caused a death in America since 1983. Funny, since I spent my childhood terrified of black widows and quicksand. Brown recluses have a fierce reputation but there’s not one confirmed death from a recluse bite in America. As to other house spiders, they mostly don’t bite and when they do we’re left with a slightly itchy or sore spot…

Meg Conley

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