Do you swallow eight spiders a year in your sleep?

The Myth of Lisa Birgit Holst


Have you heard the "fact" that the average person swallows eight spiders a year in your sleep? Well, it is not true, there is no evidence that it happens and it contradicts both human and spider biology.

But even the source of the original fact is not true. This demonstrates, not only that the internet spreads false facts, but also that false sources can be created, and most people will never check.

According to snopes(1) this “fact” was deliberately made up, with the express purpose of showing how the internet spreads false facts. The origin of this factoid was apparently Lisa Birgit Holst in an article in magazine called PC Professional, which was in turn taken from a 1954 book on insect folklore.

However, that also is not true, and the rabbit hole deepens. There is no evidence for the existence of either Lisa Holst, or the article, and while the book on insect folklore does exist, it contains nothing about swallowing spiders. The book doesn't actually contain anything about spiders since it is about insects. (Insects have six legs, spiders have eight, so they are arachnids not insects. Although both insects and arachnids belong to the group arthropods) So even the source of this made up fact, is a made up fact.

There is an earlier source (2) of the factoid and that is Margot A. S. Vigeant as author of the article “Things to Stress Over” in Cornell Engineer from 1990.  That article clealry appears to be toughen in cheek, as the fact reads “The average person swallows eight spiders a year while sleeping. What if all eight show up tonight?” Along with other ideas designed to keep you awake at night.

How far does this rabbit hole go? Did Snopes get it wrong? Or have they deliberately trolled everyone by creating massive circular reasoning to show that people won't fact check even false facts. Every reference you can find on the internet gives either snopes or the same reference that snores cites, namely: "Holst, Lisa Birgit. “Reading Is Believing.” PC Professional. 7 January 1993 (p. 71).” even thought the cornell Engineer reference is earlier.

Lots have people on the internet have searched for Lisa Birgit Holst and it seems that she does not exist. Lots of people claim that even this magazine doesn’t exist. However, due to some detective work Youtuber LEMMiNO (3)  tracked down the German PC prefessionell and had page 71 translated. It contains nothing by Lisa Holst or about spiders or even sleep.

As you may have noticed from the picture with this article, and the reason I have been using her full name all the time, "Lisa Birgit Holst" is an anagram for “This is a Big Troll.”  So it does appears that Snopes has been trolling us all in a meta-deception. Every mention of this factiod is accompanied by the same reference, and (almost) no one has checked.

So remember kids, it is always a good idea to check the original source.

But if you have any further information on this, please leave a comment.

References:
1.   Snopes article.  https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/spiders-inside-her/ 
2.   “Things to Stress Over” in Cornell Engineer from 1990.  Link google books
3.  The Eight Spiders, by LEMMiNO, 

Dr Andrew Gibson BSc PGCE QTS MSc PhD 

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