Are spider webs safe for human consumption? I certainly hope so, because I’ve consumed my fair share of them on my local mountain bike trails this past summer. They cover my bike, my arms, my hands, my legs and my face, and some of them end up in my mouth. Try as I might, I can’t spit them all out. I’m constantly spluttering and blowing raspberries like a toddler as I wind my way down the trails and through the network of sticky delicate traps which traverse the single track.
I try again to remove them from my mouth when I finally stop for a drink, but by then some of the web has started its journey down my esophagus
For those who ride the same trails later in the day, free of spider webs: you’re welcome.
Are webs poisonous if swallowed? Plenty of Australian spiders are poisonous, and some of those deadly critters lurk beneath the undergrowth beside the trails. If a spider is poisonous, does that mean its web is automatically poisonous, or potentially more toxic?
I know spiders sit waiting for prey to entangle themselves in their web, ready to devour them once the animal stops writhing in vain to free itself from the web. The local spiders could be waiting for me. They could also be plotting their revenge, knowing it was me who destroyed their hard labour the previous day when I slammed through their silken creations. I’m sure they recognise me.
I’m inherently suspicious of any substance that is produced by the repository of an animal – but then again, so is the world’s most expensive coffee. Does that mean spider webs could be nutritious? Could spider webs be packaged, marketed and sold as a new super food, and could I charge as much for one vile of web as cafes do for one cup of Kopi Luwak?
If it’s that good, it will find its way onto the WADA list of banned substances; there goes my Olympic comeback.
In reality, some spider webs are potentially harmful. New research from molecular biologist Fanciele Grego Esteves and colleagues from University of São Paulo State, has found that golden orb weavers lace their webs with neurotoxins. Only the larger spiders of this species employ the neurotoxins, because only their webs are thick enough to carry the extra weight, but these spiders are found in Australia, as well as Asia.
Maybe I need to wear a face mask: COVID safe, Spider safe.
Maybe I should ride with a vertical propeller protruding from my helmet to swat away the spider webs, like hikers waving a stick to clear their path.
If only there were a way to coat the webs with honey, or chocolate…
The webs don’t appear to be doing me any harm. I’m still alive.
But so are the spiders.
Image: Olha Sumnikova