Something many people might not know about me is that I seriously dig arachnids. Well, I should clarify; I like to read facts about them, and look at them from a safe distance, and I remove them from my home without squashing them whenever possible. I clarify because some people also want touch contact with them, but I'm not that brave.
So, in the process of trying to get caught up on the show Lost before it starts new episodes, I came across an episode that was about a fictional spider living on their island.
The episode in question is titled Expose (a quick episode run down). In the episode, as you can see, the high school teacher has in his collection an arachnid he calls Latrodectus Regina, or the so-called "Medusa Spider."
Why is that interesting? The inconsistency. Not that I have a problem with writers making up fictional creatures; but the inconsistency made me think about how often fictional arachnids have to created from real ones on camera.
So, as a bit of background, that latin name Latrodectus is very specific. They're immediately recognizable when you see one. The typical widow spider looks something like this (though it is variable):
(this is Latrodectus Hesperus)
The problem that creates the interesting inconsistency? The spider shown in the episode looks like this:
And is actually Argiope Appensa, an Orb Weaver common to Hawaii.
Why is all that interesting to me? Because orb weavers, while having some of the largest females in the spider world, are not terribly venomous. I mean, you wouldn't appreciate being bitten, but in the long run? Minor skin irritation and vomiting. Latrodectus, on the other hand, are typically quite venomous. So, if this "medusa spider" did exist (and it doesn't), it would make sense that it would have something like an 8-hour paralysis venom if it came from the Latrodectus end of the pool. However, Orb weavers are fairly harmless--just scary because of their size and bright coloring...that tendency to hang "upside down" can be a bit creepy too for some.
What almost always happens is that the directors find the most scary looking spider they can to play the role of whatever new spider has to be invented. The problem? Most often they go with size as the scary factor. Consider for a moment the film "Arachnophobia" and Theraphosa Blondi. Now, I'm not saying that a bite would feel pleasant from Blondi, either, but it's not a venomous species--yet we are led to associate it with fear after seeing this film because of its size. Yet again, though, funnel-web weavers tend to be relatively harmless. How often in TV shows or movies are we shown Brachypelma Smithi as a venomous spider or as a giant mutant monster rampaging through cities and towns? In all reality, all Smithi wants is a nice cricket to eat and a nap--if you got bitten, it was because you got in the way of one of these things happening.
My point here is this: remember that no matter what you see on TV or in film, when it comes to arachnids they should be treated with care and respect. But also, remember a good rule of thumb is that it is generally cobwebbing means danger from venom, as most of the really dangerous spiders are generally comb-footed, and that (though I know I'm grossly overgeneralizing here) the smaller the spider, the bigger the chances that it could harm you. I wish directors would stop thinking in terms of size to scare us, as this can create bad reputations for some spiders that really don't deserve them.