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8 Wildly Inaccurate Myths About Spiders (Plus the Truth)

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You might know that spiders aren’t insects (they’re part of the Arachnida group, not the Insecta) but many other spider myths still persist. Chances are you’ve called any old web a “cobweb,” thought you were being nice by putting a spider outside instead of killing it, and made wild claims about how many spiders people swallow in their sleep each year. Read on to learn what’s real, what’s fake, and where the most persistent alternative spider facts got their start.

1. ALL SPIDERS SPIN WEBS, WHICH ARE WHERE SPIDERS LIVE.

Webs are not houses—they are made to catch food. And not all spiders spin webs: some get their dinner by hiding inside flowers or hunting. Their silk production isn’t limited to webs, either: Spider silk comes in seven different varieties, from durable draglines and parachutes to the kind used to wrap up prey.

2. ALL WEBS ARE “COBWEBS.”

As far as scientists are concerned, “cobweb” isn’t just a synonym for a spider web. It’s a specific kind of web made by spiders from the Theridiidae family. Unlike the ritzy orb webs you might be more familiar with (like the one above), cobwebs are messy, three-dimensional webs that look more appropriate in a creepy house than a garden, though some Theridiidae species live outdoors.

3. SPIDERS WILL BITE YOU WHILE YOU SLEEP.

Sorry, but they’re just not that into you. Spiders can tell the difference between a person and something they want to eat, and human sleeping sounds, like breathing and snoring, are pretty scary. Even if you roll directly onto a sheet covered in the critters, you’re more likely to make a mess than get hurt: spider fangs don’t stick up like dinosaur spikes. They’re on the other side, pointing down.

4. PUTTING SPIDERS “BACK OUTSIDE” IS NICE.

We all have that friend who makes a face when we kill a spider. They would never do that. They put spiders outside, usually using some stressful combination of a glass and a piece of paper. While there are outdoor spiders and indoor spiders, however, many species can’t survive in both environments. If you want to be nice, put the spider in your neighbor’s house.

Spiders don’t “come inside” in the fall, either. Those are just male spiders—who already live in your house—running around looking for a mate.

5. THERE’S ALWAYS A SPIDER THREE FEET AWAY.

It depends on where you are. If you’re at a spider exhibit, sure. If you’re at the top of the Eiffel Tower, chances are pretty slim. This false fact is actually an arachnologist’s fault: In 1995, Norman Platnick started an article with “Wherever you sit as you read these lines, a spider is probably no more than a few yards away.”

There are over 40,000 different species of spider in the world, so it’s not totally bonkers to assume there’s one around you somewhere, but science doesn’t have a precise estimate for how close they are to you at any given time.

6. IN FACT, THERE’S ONE UNDER YOUR TOILET SEAT.

One of the most famous spider hoaxes involves an “allegedly deadly South American spider, Arachnius gluteus”—and that name should be enough to clue you in. While the original hoax, which began circulating in 1999, had obviously fictional elements—like a non-existent Chicago airport and a totally made-up scientific journal—recent versions sound more plausible. There still isn’t a venomous spider under your toilet seat, though—and if there were, it would be much more scared of you.

7. SPIDERS ARE JERKS.

Spiders’ reputations precede them: They’ve been blamed for everything from regular old aggression to eating their mates and laying eggs in the cheeks of little girls. Contrary to popular belief, some spiders can be quite charming when the mood strikes. Both male fishing spiders and male nursery web spiders who treat their ladies to silk-wrapped snacks experience more reproductive success than spiders who show up empty-handed; a study led by Dr. Maria Albo found that nursery web males with gifts were allowed to mate nearly ten times longer than their unromantic counterparts.

8. YOU SWALLOW EIGHT SPIDERS PER YEAR WHILE SLEEPING.

We don’t swallow four spiders a year, eight spiders a year, 20 spiders in our lifetime, or any such number—unless, of course, you are a professional spider-swallower. “For a sleeping person to swallow even one live spider would involve so many highly unlikely circumstances,” Rob Crawford, Arachnid Curator at the University of Washington’s Burke Museum, writes.

According to Snopes.com, this myth was started in 1993 when a columnist for PC Professional included it on a list of false facts. She was trying to prove how quickly misinformation spread via email and, well, that is definitely true: It looks like a magazine called PC Professional never even existed.

All photos via iStock.

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Animals
14 Fascinating Facts About Foxes
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Foxes live on every continent except Antarctica and thrive in cities, towns, and rural settings. But despite being all around us, they’re a bit of a mystery. Here’s more about this elusive animal.

1. Foxes Are Solitary.

Foxes are part of the Canidae family, which means they’re related to wolves, jackals, and dogs. They’re medium-sized, between 7 and 15 pounds, with pointy faces, lithe frames, and bushy tails. But unlike their relatives, foxes are not pack animals. When raising their young, they live in small families—called a “leash of foxes” or a “skulk of foxes”—in underground burrows. Otherwise, they hunt and sleep alone.

2. Foxes Have A Lot In Common With Cats.

Like the cat, the fox is most active after the sun goes down. In fact, it has vertically oriented pupils that allow it to see in dim light. It even hunts in a similar manner to a cat, by stalking and pouncing on its prey.

And that’s just the beginning of the similarities. Like the cat, the fox has sensitive whiskers and spines on its tongue. It walks on its toes, which accounts for its elegant, cat-like tread. And—get this—many foxes have retractable claws that allow them to climb rooftops or trees. Some foxes even sleep in trees—just like cats.

3. The Red Fox Is The Most Common Fox.

The red fox has the widest geographical range of any animal in the order Carnivora. While its natural habitat is a mixed landscape of scrub and woodland, its flexible diet allows it to adapt to many environments. As a result, its range is the entire Northern Hemisphere, from the Arctic Circle to North Africa to Central America to the Asiatic steppes. It’s also in Australia, where it’s considered an invasive species.

4. Foxes Use The Earth’s Magnetic Field.

Like a guided missile, the fox harnesses the earth’s magnetic field to hunt. Other animals, like birds, sharks, and turtles, have this “magnetic sense,” but the fox is the first one we’ve discovered that uses it to catch prey.

According to New Scientist, the fox can see the earth’s magnetic field as a “ring of shadow” on its eyes that darkens as it heads towards magnetic north. When the shadow and the sound the prey is making line up, it’s time to pounce. Here’s the fox in action:

5. Foxes Are Good Parents.

Foxes reproduce once a year. Litters range from one to 11 pups (the average is six), which are born blind and don’t open their eyes until nine days after birth. During that time, they stay with the vixen (female) in the den while the dog (male) brings them food. They live with their parents until they're seven months old. The vixen protects her pups with surprising loyalty. Recently, a fox pup was caught in a trap in England for two weeks, but survived because its mother brought it food every day.

6. The Smallest Fox Weighs Under 3 Pounds.

Roughly the size of a kitten, the fennec fox has elongated ears and a creamy coat. It lives in the Sahara Desert, where it sleeps during the day to protect it from the searing heat. Its ears not only allow it to hear prey, they also radiate body heat, which keeps the fox cool. Its paws are covered with fur so that the fox can walk on hot sand, like it’s wearing snowshoes.

7. Foxes Are Playful.

Foxes are known to be friendly and curious. They play among themselves as well as with other animals like cats and dogs. They love balls, which they frequently steal from golf courses.

Although foxes are wild animals, their relationship with humans goes way back. In 2011, researchers opened a grave in a 16,500-year-old cemetery in Jordan to find the remains of a man and his pet fox. This was 4000 years before the first-known human and dog were buried together.

8. You Can Buy A Pet Fox.

In the 1960s, a Soviet geneticist named Dmitry Belyaev bred thousands of foxes before achieving a domesticated fox. Unlike a tame fox, which has learned to tolerate humans, a domesticated fox is docile toward people from birth. Today, you can buy a pet fox for $9000, according to Fast Company. They’re reportedly curious and sweet-tempered, although inclined to dig in your furniture.

9. Arctic Foxes Don’t Shiver Until –70 degrees Celsius.

The arctic fox, which lives in the northernmost areas of the hemisphere, can handle cold better than most animals on earth. It doesn’t even get cold until –70 degrees Celsius. Its white coat also camouflages it against predators. As the seasons change, the coat changes too, turning brown or gray so the fox can blend in with the rocks and dirt of the tundra.

10. Fox Hunting Continues To Be Controversial.

Perhaps because of the fox’s ability to decimate a chicken coop, in the 16th century, fox hunting became a popular activity in Britain. In the 19th century, the upper classes turned fox hunting into a formalized sport where a pack of hounds and men on horseback chase a fox until it is killed. Today, whether to ban fox hunting continues to be a controversial subject in the UK. Currently, fox hunting with dogs is not allowed.

11. The Fox Appears Throughout Folklore.

Examples include: the nine-tail fox from various Asian cultures; the Reynard tales from medieval Europe; the sly trickster fox from Native American lore; and Aesop’s “The Fox and the Crow.” The Finnish believed a fox made the Northern Lights by running in the snow so that its tail swept sparks into the sky. From this, we get the phrase “fox fires.”

12. Bat-eared Foxes Listen For Insects.

The bat-eared fox is aptly named, not just because of its 5-inch ears, but because of what it uses those ears for—like the bat, it listens for insects. On a typical night, the fox walks along the African Savannah, listening, until it hears the scuttle of prey. Although the fox eats a variety of insects and lizards, most of its diet is made up of termites. In fact, the bat-eared fox often makes its home in termite mounds, which it usually cleans out of inhabitants before moving in.

13. Darwin Discovered A Fox Species.

During his voyage on the Beagle, Charles Darwin collected a fox that today is unimaginatively called Darwin’s Fox. This small gray fox is critically endangered and lives in just two spots in the world: One population is on Island of Chiloé in Chile, and the second is in a Chilean national park. The fox’s greatest threats are unleashed domestic dogs that carry diseases like rabies.

14. Foxes Sound Like This.

Foxes make 40 different sounds, some of which you can listen to here. The most startling is the scream:

Pleasant dreams!

All images courtesy of iStock unless otherwise stated.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Love Scratching Furniture?
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Allergy suffering aside, cat ownership has proven health benefits. A feline friend can aid in the grieving process, reduce anxiety, and offer companionship.

The con in the cat column? They have no reservations about turning your furniture into shredded pleather. No matter how expensive your living room set, these furry troublemakers will treat it with the respect accorded to a college futon. Do cats do this out of some kind of spite? Are they conspiring with Raymour & Flanigan to get you to keep updating home decor?

Neither. According to cat behaviorists, cats gravitate toward scratching furniture mostly because that love seat is in a really conspicuous area [PDF]. As a result, cats want to send a message to any other animal that may happen by: namely, that this plush seating belongs to the cat who marked it. Scratching provides both visual evidence (claw marks) as well as a scent marker. Cat paws have scent glands that can leave smells that are detectable to other cats and animals.

But it’s not just territorial: Cats also scratch to remove sloughed-off nail tips, allowing fresh nail growth to occur. And they can work out their knotted back muscles—cramped from sleeping 16 hours a day, no doubt—by kneading the soft foam of a sectional.

If you want to dissuade your cat from such behavior, purchasing a scratching post is a good start. Make sure it’s non-carpeted—their nails can get caught on the fibers—and tall enough to allow for a good stretch. Most importantly, put it near furniture so cats can mark their hangout in high-traffic areas. A good post might be a little more expensive, but will likely result in fewer trips to Ethan Allen.

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