Directions for teachers: Ask students to read and answer questions about the online Science News article “News stories have caught spiders in a web of misinformation,” which describes new research looking at how spiders are portrayed by the media. A version of the article, “News stories give spiders a bum rap” appears in the September 24, 2022 issue of Science News.

1. In your own words, summarize the main finding presented in the article.

News stories about human-spider interactions tend to have a lot of errors and paint spiders as generally dangerous.

2. About how many species of spider are there in the world?

There are roughly 50,000 species known to science.

3. How many spiders can bite people? Give two examples.

Very, very few spiders can bite people. Two well-known examples are widow and recluse spiders.

4. How can news stories about spiders be unfair to the creatures?

Many news reports about spiders generally treat them as scary creatures that hurt people and those reports don’t provide evidence to support that claim. The fact is that most spiders are harmless to people and actually help us by eating pests.

5. How many news stories did the researchers analyze, and where did the news stories come from?

Scientists looked at 5,000 online news stories from 81 countries.

6. Give an example of an error that was found in the news stories.

Some news stories about spider bites reported symptoms that don’t match the symptoms of actual bites.

7. How many of the news stories were sensationalized? Based on the article, what do you think the term “sensationalized” means?

Forty-three percent of the news stories were sensationalized. To sensationalize something means to present it in a way that stirs a strong emotional reaction. 

8. How did including spider experts in the news stories affect the level of sensationalism? What about other types of experts, like doctors?

Including spider experts decreased stories’ sensationalism. Including other types of experts like doctors did not affect how sensational a news story was.

9. What effects might unfairly negative news stories have on people and spiders?

Unfairly negative news stories about spiders might make people afraid of them and even want to kill them.

10. How might news stories that are more accurate affect people and spiders?

News stories about spiders that are more accurate might make people less afraid of the creatures. It might also help to conserve spider species that are threatened or endangered.