It turned out that none of the spider bites in the sample, including the one inflicted by the hobo spider, resulted in dermonecrosis — the death of skin cells. The victim of the hobo spider suffered only pain, redness and twitching.
"Spiders are a very handy scapegoat to blame all the time" because, historically, people have had a negative view of spiders, Vetter told Live Science.
At the outset of the study, the researchers had wanted to look at a series of cases of hobo spider bites. But over the three-year period, the researchers found only one such report. And while this may not necessarily mean that hobo spiders rarely bite people, there is not sufficient evidence to prove that they are "common biters," either, Vetter said.
Previous reports of hobo spider bites have cited largely circumstantial evidence, with people reporting bites without providing evidence they were actually bitten by a hobo spider, or any spider at all, the researchers said. People may blame other medical conditions, for instance, skin conditions, on spider bites.
"Spider bite diagnoses are very handy diagnoses for a lot of doctors," Vetter said. "They can't be proven wrong, and 90 percent of everything heals by itself anyway."
Other researchers agreed with the idea that hobo spiders are not dangerous.
"I actually believe that it's not at all a real thing that the hobo spiders" have bites that can kill human skin tissue, said Christopher Buddle, an arachnologist at McGill University, who was not involved in the study. "I think it has largely been almost a hoax," he told Live Science.
The new study, which gathered data on the bites of a range of species of spiders, was quite valuable, because researchers don't know much about the potential medical importance of a lot of these species, Buddle said.
The fact that the researchers found just one case of a hobo spider bite, and no evidence of skin necrosis is interesting in itself, Buddle said. That result "suggests that maybe the fear around the hobo spider has really been overblown," he said.
The few previous reports of hobo spider bites also failed to show evidence of skin necrosis, Buddle said. "There is a lot of fear around spiders that gets proliferated online and in the media that's just not warranted," he said.
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