It's OK to Sleep With Your Mouth Open. No Spiders are Going In There.
No Spiders Actually Crawl in Your Mouth While You Sleep
Urban legends and old wives' tales are fascinating stories, but perhaps what is more interesting are the stories about the myths themselves. For example, where did the idea arise about seven years of bad luck resulting from the destruction of mirrors? Why do some suggest willow bark tea is a good way to deal with joint pain? Some of these are superstitions--like a broken mirror's resulting in poor fortune—but others have a very real basis in scientific fact. Willow bark contains the main ingredient of aspirin
When debunking a myth, the first question to ask is the simplest: Is this even possible? Well, yes, it is possible that spiders might find their way in mouths. However, what is more important to examine is if it's likely. After all, many magazines have reported on this myth as if it were fact. But... is there truth to it?
Spiders. Many people are fascinated by them, and many people are afraid of these eight-legged hunters. As such evocative creatures, many legends have formed around them. One in particular involves the case where a sleeping person will swallow a certain number of spiders in their lifetime. The number will vary between legend, but the common idea is that if you have a mouth, a spider going to crawl in there while you sleep. Is this real, or a morbid fantasy? The truth may surprise you.
How does a spider get into the mouth? Would the spider crawl, leap, or jump inside? Spiders crawling up the side of the face generally result in reactions, such as turned head, scratching hands, that sort of thing. Jumping spiders leaping into an open mouth seem rather ridiculous and senseless to envision. What of a spider slowly lowering itself into the mouth on a silken thread? The mouth would have to be wide open, and the spider have really good aim in order to hit such a target, never mind seven times per month. The idea of the myth is that this is accidental spider swallowing, and the amount of effort on behalf of the spider would imply some species of suicidal mouth spider, that decides that the sleeping mouth is its happy place, to be shot for by every means at its disposal.
Spiders are naturally repulsed by breath. Generally, they will want to avoid a breathing person's mouth. This makes sense for multiple reasons. An exhaling human puts out carbon dioxide and a spider would be more likely to suffocate. As well, most insects are also unlikely to be attracted to exhaled air, thus the likelihood of a spider to hunt in such an area is slim. Web-building spiders would find it more difficult near the changing airstreams, and so would seek to build their traps where air circulates less. Then there is the obvious: Spiders who tend to hop in mouths and get swallowed won't reproduce to make spider babies. To a spider, a human is a large predator, and spiders avoid predators for no other reason than they do not like to be eaten. This process is the simple result of natural selection. Going into mouths is death, and most living creatures avoid being devoured unless it is part of their reproductive cycle.
More interesting is that such a tale has no study or scientific basis. Scientific conclusions are easily found with minimal research. All scientific findings are presented in peer review journals, so that the scientific community can advance hypotheses and further the cause of science. Such a study would be easily performed, by having cameras watching sleeping people and studying what, if anything, gets into their mouths. It's not difficult to do searches for such studies, and discover that absolutely no examination of accidental consumption of spiders, insects, or any other arthropod has been performed. While this does not disprove the idea of spiders crawling into mouths, it does show that the myth is not something that arose from science.
Some of these urban myths come from misunderstandings of the world around us. Perhaps a scientific study was misquoted. Many times it is the result of the fears and demons residing within the subconscious. In the case of this myth however, the truth is far simpler, and considerably more ironic.
The origins of this legend stem from an article in a magazine called PC Professional, in 1988. The work, titled “Reading is Believing” was about urban legends, and how likely people were to believe them if they were written in an authoritative manner. One of the legends included was the previous spider-in-mouth myth, complete with a disclaimer reminding the reader that it—along with the rest of the article—was made up simply to test the reader.
This made its way into a chain-email with a similar premise—a list of made up facts that people would believe, until the point of the article was read showing them to be false. Eventually, the point of the article was left out, and it merely got spread as a list of 'facts'. Soon the idea of spiders finding their ways into mouths every four days or so became a common myth.
As myth origins go, this one is very unique. It started as a faked cautionary tale about believing urban myths, later turning into an urban myth itself. Over a short amount of time it has evolved into a commonly believed bit of folklore about what lands in peoples' mouths. It truly is a fascinating study as to what people will believe, and as to the source of where beliefs come from, and how ideas can change over time.
One thing is for certain, however. Tonight, you can sleep well, for the only spiders that will find their way into your mouth are the cute candy ones you can get at the local 7-11.
About the author: Seth Gowdy is the Sales Manager for Pivot Insurance and holds multiple insurance and securities' licenses. He has been part of the financial services industry for nearly 20 years. In his free time he enjoys being outdoors fishing, hiking, and geocaching with his wife and two children. Seth most enjoys helping clients with Pivot’s customized process and needs' calculators. You can reach Seth at 1-800-651-1953 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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