Each year, an untold number of spiders are sentenced to gruesome deaths, guilty only of possessing eight, jerky hydraulic legs, two arced fangs, and myriad orb-like eyes. Humans, of course, are the executioners.
This wanton extermination is regrettable and actually deleterious to humanity. Many of the 43,678 known spider species aren't dangerous to us in the least, instead predating upon genuinely pesky and harmful insects like mosquitoes. One species of jumping spider in East Africa actually prefers ensnaring and eating mosquitoes carrying the insidious malaria parasite, which kills up to a million humans each year. The number of human deaths caused by spider bites is paltry in comparison.
Spiders are incredibly hearty animals, persisting in almost every environment worldwide except for the air and water. This resilience means that they do occasionally end up in foreign environments, like your bed sheets. In the southern United States, two species in particular -- black widows and brown recluses -- are known to wind up where we don't want them. Despite their comparatively small size, each packs a powerful, venomous punch. Disturbingly, the brown recluse's hemotoxin sometimes has a necrotic effect, inducing the skin surrounding the bite to rot away. Such an experience is no fun, no fun at all.
As such, arachnid extermination is occasionally necessary. But what's the best way to carry it out? Stomping or swatting are quite effective methods, although they are very messy and potentially disastrous for innocent nearby objects, like that old, antique lamp precariously situated right next to your eight-legged target.
Another potential option -- recommended by Destin from Smarter Every Day -- is death by fire. Since the exoskeletons of small spiders are pressurized (that's how they extend their legs), holding a flame nearby causes the interior pressure to skyrocket, resulting in a spectacular explosion of legs and segmented body parts. This method, however, is also messy and suffers from a more serious drawback: it could actually start a fire.
A technique more commonly utilized is flushing the spider down the toilet, a fate which elicits curiosity. What happens to a spider after it traverses the U-bend? For an answer, I sought the expertise of Ohio State's Dr. Jerome Rovner, a member of the American Arachnological Society.
"Flushed spiders will drown if they end up submerged in
the sewer," he told me in an email. "However, the drowning process for a spider can take an hour
or more, as they have an extremely low metabolic rate and thus a very low
rate of oxygen consumption."
Death by lengthy drowning might be deemed cruel, an end unfitting for an animal so overtly beneficial to mankind. Thus, Rovner recommends a more intricate, yet affable method for destroying one of our eight-legged friends:
Catch [the spider] in an empty pill vial of appropriate size (or a baby-food-size jar), snap the cap on, and put it in the refrigerator freezer overnight. Getting cold is a normal experience of all spiders during winter, so it doesn't seem cruel to knock them out by lowering their body temperature. The next day, pour enough rubbing alcohol in the container to submerge the frozen spider to insure that it will not recover from being frozen. The now dead spider and alcohol can then be poured into the toilet and flushed away.