Why Do Spiders Disappear When You Kill Them?

Have you ever killed a spider, only to have it seemingly disappear into thin air? Some believe that spiders can teleport, while others think that they simply melt into the background.

When a spider feels threatened, its first instinct is to run away. However, if it feels that escape is not an option, it will play dead in the hopes that its attacker will lose interest and go away.

This defense mechanism is known as thanatosis, and it’s common among many animals, from possums to lizards.

In some cases, thanatosis can be so convincing that even expert arachnologists have been fooled. So next time you see a spider vanish before your eyes, don’t be alarmed – it’s just nature’s way of survival.

There is also an alternative explanation for a spider disappearing right after you stepped on it. Spiders undergo a process called Molting.

This is when a spider sheds its exoskeleton to grow. After completing this process, the spider will just live in’s old exoskeleton until it hardens. So, if you ever see what might look like a spider lying around, there’s a chance that it is just its molt.

How to Tell If a Spider Is Really Dead or Just Playing Dead?

There are ways how to tell if you killed the spider or if it is just playing possum.

Look for Movement

If the spider is still, it’s probably dead. When you’re trying to identify a spider, one of the first things you should look for is movement. If the spider is still, it’s likely dead.

This is because spiders are very active creatures and their metabolism is such that they need to keep moving to stay alive. So, if you see a spider that isn’t moving, it’s a good indication that it’s no longer alive.

Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule – some spiders can enter into a state of hibernation or aestivation (a type of dormancy) in which they appear to be motionless. 

Check to See if it Has its Legs Stretched Out

When trying to determine whether a spider is alive or dead, one of the most important things to check is whether or not its legs are stretched out.

A living spider will usually be curled up in a tight ball, with all of its spindly legs tucked away in an orderly fashion. By contrast, a dead spider will often have its legs splayed out in an uneven and uncoordinated manner.

dead spider on white background

Moreover, dead spiders will often have a rigidity to their legs that living spiders do not – this is because the muscles and ligaments in a dead spider’s legs are no longer able to contract. So, if you see a spider with its legs stretched out, it’s likely that it is no longer alive.

Try to Touch It

A live spider will quickly recoil, while a dead one won’t move at all. You can carefully touch the spider and see if it moves.

A living spider will generally react to your touch by quickly uncurling itself and coming back to life. If the spider does not respond at all when touched, then it is likely that it has expired. 

Observe its Breathing

When observing a spider, one of the first things to look for is its breathing. If the spider is taking regular, even breaths, then it is alive and doing well.

This indicates that its body systems are functioning as they should, pumping oxygen throughout the body and removing carbon dioxide.

The frequency and strength of the spider’s breath can also give some indication as to how active it is. If a spider takes quick, shallow breaths in short bursts, this may indicate that it has been alarmed by something or feels threatened in some way. On the other hand, slow and steady breaths may indicate that the spider is feeling relaxed and comfortable. 

It is important to note that sometimes, it is hard to distinguish if a spider is dead or just playing dead. If you’re unsure, it’s best to err on the side of caution and assume that the spider is still alive.

Why Do Spiders Play Dead?

Spiders are smart and will do anything for their survival, some even play dead to ensure that they will live throughout their life span.

To Avoid Death

Spiders play dead when they feel threatened to avoid being killed.

As a Form of Defense

Some spiders will play dead as a form of defense. When a spider is threatened, it will usually try to run away first. If escape is not an option, the spider may choose to play dead to make its attacker lose interest and go away.

As a Way to Escape

In some cases, playing dead may be the spider’s only way to escape. For example, if a spider is being held by a predator, it may play dead in order to convince its attacker to let go.

As a Way to Attract Mates

Spiders play dead in order to attract mates during mating season. Cannibalism is common among female spiders, which means they may consume their males. To entice the females, male spiders act as if they are lifeless.

One good example of male spiders playing dead is the American Wolf Spider. After performing a mating ritual, the female wolf spider will consume the male.

The males, as a species that has perfected the art of survival, have adapted a defensive mechanism against this behavior. They will feign death after the mating is done, which might keep the female away from eating him.

Top 5 Species of Spiders That Play Dead

It is still a wonder if all spiders use the trick of faking their death to survive. However, studies show that there are several species of spider that are popular in using this tactic.

Tarantulas

There is a lot that we still don’t know about tarantulas, and one of the most mysterious behaviors of these fascinating creatures is their tendency to play dead.

While scientists are still trying to understand the reasons behind this peculiar behavior, there are a few hypotheses that may offer some insight into this bizarre behavior.

tarantula crawling on wood

One hypothesis suggests that tarantulas play dead to surprise or immobilize their prey. When a potential victim approaches the motionless tarantula, it suddenly springs back to life and attacks its unsuspecting meal.

Another possibility is that tarantulas play dead as a form of self-defense, giving them a chance to flee from predators or other threats without actually drawing blood.

Southern House Spider

The Southern House Spider is a fascinating creature that has the remarkable ability to play dead when threatened. Unlike many other spiders, which tend to flee from potential threats, these spiders instead opt to feign death.

This behavior has several potential purposes, from wasting the time of potential predators to luring prey closer by appearing vulnerable and harmless. In addition, by playing dead, these spiders also reduce their risk of infection if they are injured. 

Black Widow Spiders

The black widow spider is a mysterious and often misunderstood creature. Many people mistakenly believe that it is highly venomous, even though its venom is not very harmful to humans. Part of this misconception may be because black widow spiders are well known for playing dead when threatened.

The old myth goes that if you touch a black widow spider, it will bite you and kill you instantly – but in reality, these spiders are very docile and only bite when they feel threatened or trapped. So why do they play dead? Scientists believe it has to do with predator deterrence – by mimicking death, the black widow spider can fool its enemy into leaving it alone. 

Jumping Spiders

close up of jumping division

When jumping spiders fall, they immediately stop moving as if they are dead. They do this for only one reason and this is to avoid further injury to their already frail body. This is a survival mechanism that allows them to better control their descent and ensure that they land softly, rather than crashing into the ground with a thud.

Giant House Spiders

Giant house spiders are well-known for their tendency to play dead when confronted by potential predators. This behavior, which often involves curling up and becoming completely limp, is thought to help them avoid capture and keep themselves safe from harm.

There are a number of different theories as to why this might be the case. Some experts believe that the act of playing dead fools predators into thinking that the spider is already dead or otherwise no longer a threat.

Others hypothesize that playing dead may also help to cover up any potential signs of weakness or injury, thereby making it more difficult for larger predators to detect them

Final Thoughts

Spiders are fascinating creatures with a wide variety of survival mechanisms. One of the most interesting (and misunderstood) is their tendency to play dead when threatened.

While scientists are still trying to understand all the reasons behind this behavior, they have come up with several hypotheses that may offer some insight into why spiders do this.

Some believe that playing dead is a way for spiders to surprise or immobilize their prey, while others believe it may be a form of self-defense that allows them to escape from predators or other threats.

Whatever the reasons behind it, playing dead is just one of the many ways that spiders have adapted to survive in the world around them.