I saw someone say on social media that putting a horse chesnut into “every corner of your room” would “repell spiders” and this, I felt sure, wasn’t true. Rather than doing any research, or engaging in a fruitless online debate with a stranger, instead I turned to ChatGPT and asked it to write me a brief essay on the subject… see below, for the robot’s opinion.
Every autumn, as the leaves turn golden and the air gets crisp, conkers – or horse chestnuts, as they’re scientifically known – begin to fall from the trees, carpeting the ground with their shiny, rich brown treasures. For many, these glossy seeds awaken a nostalgic urge for classic games of conker battles, but for others, they serve a different purpose altogether: that of a natural spider repellent. But one has to wonder, is there any truth to the claim that conkers deter these eight-legged creatures, or is it all just an old wives’ tale? Let’s untangle the web around this intriguing belief.
The belief that spiders have an aversion to conkers is widespread. According to folklore, placing these seeds on your windowsills or at various points around your home will keep spiders at bay. While the exact origin of this notion is unclear, it’s an idea that many people swear by, even today.
But what does science have to say on the matter?
The evidence supporting the spider-repelling properties of conkers is, unfortunately, rather sparse. While there is a plethora of anecdotal support, scientific research on this specific topic is not as prevalent. The lack of evidence doesn’t necessarily disprove the theory, but it does suggest that caution should be taken before accepting it as fact.
One explanation proposed for the potential effect of conkers on spiders involves the presence of certain chemicals. Horse chestnut seeds contain a compound known as saponin, a natural insecticide that protects the seeds from being eaten by pests. Some have hypothesized that this chemical could be unpleasant or toxic to spiders, causing them to avoid conkers.
However, controlled studies examining this phenomenon are few and far between. One small-scale study conducted by the Royal Society of Chemistry involved surveying schools across the UK to place conkers in different locations and observe spider activity. The results were inconclusive, with no significant evidence to show that the conkers had any real deterrent effect on the spiders.
From an observational standpoint, another reason for skepticism is spiders’ behavior and physiology. Spiders taste and smell through their legs, and there is no conclusive evidence showing that compounds found in conkers are indeed repellent to these arachnids. They are also not known to ingest substances harmful to them in their environment, which casts further doubt on the theory.
So, where does this leave us on the conker-spider debate?
While it’s an endearing notion and a harmless practice, the belief that conkers can repel spiders lacks robust scientific backing. It’s possible that other factors, such as seasonal changes in temperature and humidity, have a more significant impact on spider activity in homes, leading to misattributed credit to the humble conker.
For those looking for assured methods of keeping spiders at bay, it may be more effective to rely on proven measures. These include keeping your home clean to prevent attracting the bugs that spiders feed on, sealing cracks and crevices in walls and windows to limit their points of entry, and using spider repellent products that have undergone scientific testing to verify their claims.
In conclusion, while the tradition of using conkers as a deterrent might not be scientifically sound, it certainly adds another layer of charm to these iconic autumnal seeds. It’s a reminder of the quirky and fascinating ways in which folklore can weave its way through generations, capturing imaginations with a blend of nature and narrative. Until conclusive evidence emerges, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to place a conker or two on the windowsill, if only for the comfort of tradition.
So no, then. They don’t.