November 21 – Eight Legs, Eight Times the Fun

Today’s factismal: There haven’t been any deaths from spider bites in Australia since 1981.

The Sydney funnel-web spider is a fearsome beast. Though it is just about two inches long, it has fangs that are longer than a snake’s and strong enough to piece a toenail! Even more fearsome is its venom; many experts count it as the most powerful spider venom in the world. Once it enters a human body, it can quickly cause paralysis and shut down the heart and other vital organs. And yet, despite the fact that this amazing arachnid lives in and around Australia’s most populous city, it hasn’t killed anyone since 1981.

Oh, sure, there have been plenty of people bitten by the critter in the past 32 years. These spiders like to wander at night (especially the males) and are very aggressive when cornered. They will frequently bite anything that they perceive as an attacker, and will do so several times, injecting a fresh dose of venom each time. So why haven’t they killed anyone? You can thank science for that.

The world's deadliest spider (My camera)

The world’s deadliest spider
(My camera)

In 1981, an anti-venom was developed that keeps the spider’s venom from killing people. The venom is made by milking live spiders (many of which are caught by volunteers {brave ones}) up to seventy times for their venom. That venom is then injected into a large animal, such as a horse; the horse then produces antibodies that attack the venom. A couple of pints of the animal’s blood is then taken and refined to make the antivenom, which is stored and given to people who were bitten.

But creating an antivenom is only half of the solution; the other half is education and prevention. If you’d like to help with that part, then why not take the House Spider Survey? The researchers are trying to learn what people think about spiders and to track common house spiders in order to help keep us safe when we encounter them. To take part, sling a web over to: https://www.societyofbiology.org/get-involved/biologyweek/house-spider-survey

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