Little Miss Muffett I’m Not

by Curt Kovener

Back in the 1970’s Jim Stafford recorded a song “I Don’t Like Spiders And Snakes”. Considering the number of those creatures I observed in the wilderness over the weekend, I was inspired to look up some information of arachnids
•For most people, fear of spiders is a far greater problem than the spiders themselves. Researchers at the University of São Paulo have developed an improbable way to undo arachnophobia by having patients stare at pictures of “spiderlike” objects-a tripod, a carousel, a person with dreadlocks. And it apparently works because a 2007 study, the scientists reported a 92 percent success rate.
•The venom of the Australian funnel-web spider can kill a person in less than an hour, and its fangs can bite right through a shoe. Maybe that will cause some rethinking of a trip down under
•But there is an upside to spider bites. Take the Brazilian wandering spider, Phoneutria nigriventer, whose venom causes penile erections that last for many hours (that’s the bad news). The good news: The responsible toxin could yield new treatments for erectile dysfunction. But I doubt that many guys will now be planning a trip to Brazil, either
•The venom of the South American tarantula Grammostola spatulata might be used to treat atrial fibrillation. It contains a peptide that can calm an irregular heartbeat brought on by stress. But so can whiskey and it is much more available and enjoyable in proper doseage.
•Back in Australia, the University of Queensland is studying the Blue Mountains funnel-web spider (Hadronyche versuta)…a safer cousin of the one that can bite through a boot…with an eye toward developing eco-friendly pesticides. Proteins in this spider’s venom target the nervous system of insects but leave humans unharmed.
•A different kind of farming: for spider venom. Workers at the Spider Pharm in Yarnell, Arizona, “milk” up to 1,000 spiders a day. The arachnids are anesthetized with carbon dioxide, then zapped with electricity, which makes them release venom into minuscule glass capillaries connected to their fangs. And you want to complain about your job?
•And a different kind of web master: researchers at the University of Akron have found that spider silk could be used as synthetic muscle. Adjusting humidity up and down causes the silk to expand and contract with 50 times the equivalent mass of human muscle. So what’s it good for? Spider silk someday may be used to operate miniature robotic devices and drug delivery systems.
•The male nursery web spider (Pisaura mirabilis) will bring a silk-wrapped insect to a female prior to mating so she will eat the gift-instead of him.
• The jumping spider Bagheera kiplingi-named in the 1800s after the panther in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book-is mostly a vegetarian.
•If you don’t want spiders crawling on your furniture, Steven Kutcher, spider wrangler on the film Arachnophobia, says a dusting of talcum powder or a spritz of Lemon Pledge makes a tabletop or other flat surface too slippery for the critters to get any traction.