Ask Your Weird Animal Questions: What Happens If You Swallow a Spider?

Would you die if you were to swallow a poisonous spider whole and alive? Would it bite your internal organs? —Anthony Gomes

No reason for arachnophobia here: Ingesting a spider, even a venomous one, isn’t really a worry, said Christopher Buddle, a spider expert at McGill University in Canada.

The brown recluse spider (Loxosceles reclusa) is a venomous species found in the U.S. South and Midwest. Photograph by Visuals Unlimited, Corbis

“If you do swallow a spider, even one that’s potentially venomous, I don’t think it would have the reaction time to bite as it’s moving down the esophagus, and certainly wouldn’t have any chance once [it’s] in your stomach acid,” Buddle said.

“No spiders are known to be poisonous—which would mean you get sick if you breathe them in or eat them—but they all have venom” that’s meant for smaller prey, Buddle added. (Also see “Fish-Eating Spiders Can Catch Prey 5 Times Their Size.”)

A few spider species are dangerous to humans, including black widows and their kin and the brown recluse. (Related: “Ask Your Weird Animal Questions: Spiders and Other Animals With Bite.”)

Buddle added that spiders get a bum rap as biters, but in fact the arachnids bite people only when they’re in compressed places or surprised by us, like when you put your foot in an already occupied shoe.

“If a spider does wander into your mouth while you’re sleeping, he’ll probably just wander away again,” he laughs, unless “you’re swallowing a lot of other bugs… There might be a good meal in it.”

I would like to send a picture of a snake to know what type of snake it is and if it is venomous. —Busola Holloway, Nigeria

We forwarded Busola’s photo to Kate Jackson, a biologist at Whitman College in Washington State, who identified it as Thelotornis kirtlandii, a venomous reptile commonly known as a vine, twig, or bird snake.

A photo of a twig snake.
A twig snake (Thelotornis capensis) is seen in iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa, in 2008. Photograph by Jelger Herder, Buiten-beeld/Minden Pictures/Corbis

“We would consider this as a snake that’s potentially dangerous to humans,” Jackson said, though humans seldom get “mixed up with them” because the snakes live in trees and eat birds.

Jackson says the snake should simply be left alone. “It’s not something that people are likely to step on in the night or put their hand on in a small place and get bitten by,” she said.

It’s easy to tell where this species gets its common names, she added. The reptile “has a way of staying very still in a kind of awkward kind of position for a snake, which has the effect of making it look like a twig,” Jackson says. (Also see “Amazing Video: Inside the World’s Largest Gathering of Snakes.”)

The snake also hunt birds “by staying still and wiggling its little red tongue as a kind of lure, and they go, ‘What’s that? A caterpillar or a worm?’ And as they’re peering at it, they get bitten.”

Tell me, can murmurations [of starlings] be also smaller groups of birds? —Shannon, Chicago

This question came from the story “Strength in Numbers, 5 Amazing Animal Swarms,” which explains the unified movements of flocks of starlings, called “murmurations,” which can involve tens of thousands of the birds.

Marc Devokaitis of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in New York said via email that scientists tend to call any group of birds a “flock” or, if they’re on the water, a “raft.”

A photo of a huge flock of starlings in the Netherlands.
A common starling (Sturnus vulgaris) flock in Lauwersmeer, the Netherlands, in 2011. Photograph by Mark Schuurman, Buiten-beeld/Minden Pictures/Corbis

He said there are no hard and fast rules as to what constitutes a flock, but “flocking behavior can start organically with as few as two birds.” (See National Geographic’s bird pictures.)

There’s also what’s called a “mixed foraging flock,” or a group of diverse species looking for food in the same area.

Devokaitis added that—like other words we use for groups of birds—the term “murmuration” is “more poetic than scientific.”

Indeed, we do take to flights of fancy when it comes to describing birds en masse. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, many larks are an “exultation,” a group of owls is a “parliament,” and several crows, of course, are a “murder.”

Got a question about the weird and wild animal world? Tweet me or leave me a note or photo in the comments below. You can also follow me on Facebook.

Liz Langley is the award-winning author of Crazy Little Thing: Why Love and Sex Drive Us Mad and has written for many publications including Salon, Details and the Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter @LizLangley and at www.lizlangley.com
  • Heather S

    Snorre Tonset,

    I’m not Liz or an expert, but that looks like a jumping spider. They are quite neat and kind of cute. Here is some info.

  • Theresa

    After supper I noticed a dead spider floating in my cooking grease. I also noticed it was fried up. Will anything happen to my family

  • chloe dawkins

    Hi! I fell asleep outside an I think I may have swallowed a mexican black tar heroin spider, i felt an explosion in my stomach and things are crawling up my esophagus,

  • Kiley Briggs

    Jut an FYI:
    Tonight I accidentally swallowed a spinybacked orb weaver spider and it bit me in my esophagus a little below my Adam’s apple. There is no swelling (the species is generally harmless), but the bite hurts more than I would expect and my right ear feels like it needs to pop, but i won’t pop. Overall I’d consider this to be one of the least pleasant experience of my year so far.

  • timmy


  • Thabang Tsobane

    I found a spider on my car last night….1st time i see that kind can anybody identify it and give information about it
    I need help how do i upload a picture of this spider

  • Jeff

    If an animal eats a venomous snake, why doesn’t it get sick from the venom? If the inside of animal’s mouth were to get punctured by a snake’s fang while eating the snake, would it have the same effect as a bit?

  • Conrad

    i know a song that will get on your nerves, get on your nerves, get on your nerves, i know a song that will get on your nerves get get get on your nerves

  • guddu


  • UUUU

    I ate an apple with a spider in it
    it wasn’t alive
    i dont know what will happen
    I don’t even know if i ate the spider
    Please help

  • anna

    when i grow up i want to be a arachnoligist my other freind wants to study plants and a lot of my other freinds say i’m a exspert but i don’t know every thing.

  • anna

    i want to be a arachnoligist when i grow up.

  • Tenzin

    7 years ago I was admitted to hospital. Someone played a cruel prank, one night I had the bathroom light on with the door ajar to the bedroom, the bedroom light off and as I woke up I saw a tarantula walking across the side of my duvet and wall. I panicked and slowly move sideways out. I breathed a sigh of relief as it didn’t get me, I went to the bathroom to look in mirror to calm myself. Suddenly something didn’t feel right and I could feel something moving in my throat, my worst fears were starting to develop. I looked in the mirror, opened my mouth wide stuck my finger down and felt sonething move. I jolted and started reaching down again, only to find a light brown leg moving slowly at the back of my tongue and you guessed it I screamed. I ran to the staff crying, and said there’s a tarantula on my mouth, and they checked, they said they saw nothing I swore on my life I saw a moving leg. They pushed me back to my room and claimed I would wake up the other patients for screaming. To this day, I believe there is a tarantula alive or dead I don’t know, stuck in my throat. I can’t shake that image from my head, I’ve been doctors they said they don’t be ridiculous but they checked anyway. They claimed I had spots at the back of my tongue and throat but claimed they could not see a tarantula living inside me. I have been with my partner four years, I have told him this story and he thinks I’m mental. I know I’m not, I suffer with bipolar not delusions or anything like that. Ever since that night I developed two large lumps not visible to the naked eye but once you touch my throat you can feel two big lumps!!! How do you explain that?!!!!! Its been playing on my mind d for 7 years and I’m scared I won’t be able to get pregnant because of the horrible incident. What do I do, I’ve only recently started looking up all queries to why and how long they survive. I’m scared, not that I’ll die but that I won’t be able to give birth. I can’t get an xray done now, what if it turns out to be true like I’m a hundred percent sure of, and I become sone sort of ridicule in my town I’m too embarrassed and need a professional input on here before I consider getting a throat xray. Please help!!!

  • Nael

    I ate the blood of a spider i dont know what spieces it is but its very small and when i squished it i saw brown blood on my finger then i wiped it off, then i began to bite my nail as it is a bad habit, a few minutes later my throat feels cold, inside it untill now please help me

  • rye

    Hi just want to ask, an egg of house spider explodes in my room. Theyre so many tiny small spiders. Are they dangerous? Im so afraid they coulder enter someones ear, nose, mouth and body. Etc. What would happen if they enter your body? Thankss!

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