Wednesday, October 23, 2019

A scary spider adventure for Halloween

     Maybe I’m doing this whole column-writing thing wrong.
     I try to choose interesting topics. But maybe I’m dancing to music nobody hears. There are worrisome hints.
     One day earlier this month, I posted two items on Facebook. The first was an in-depth look at a hospital emergency department, written after hours spent observing, talking to doctors, nurses, patients.
     That column got 13 comments and 18 "likes."
     Then I posted a photo of a spider.
     ”Anyone able to ID this bad boy, noticed on our front porch?” I asked.
     That got 78 comments and 40 "likes."
     Readers, it seems, care about spiders.
    Fine. I can do spiders.
     The obvious question is: what kind of spider are we talking about? How do you go about identifying a spider?
     ”I love that question! It’s a great question” said Petra Sierwald, associate curator of arachnids and myriapods—spiders and centipedes—at The Field Museum.
     She directed me to the Field’s online Common Spiders of the Chicago Region. I didn’t have to hunt long: my new neighbor is No. 2, Argiope aurantia, or yellow garden spider.
     Spiders have complicated sex lives. A male spider will wrap a fly in silk and mate with the female while she’s busy eating it. If no bug is handy, he’ll wrap a pebble in silk and trick her, deceit on a near-human level. 

     The worry about spiders is, like snakes, whether they’re venomous. All spiders are, but usually their fangs are too tiny, designed for incapacitating insects, to hurt something as big as a human being. And Illinois’ 800 or so types of spiders are particularly benign.
     ”You are pretty safe,” Sierwald said. “Driving a car is far more dangerous than encountering a spider.”
     Yet half the Halloween displays seem feature huge, menacing spiders. Why are people so afraid of spiders? We should be terrified of bees instead—eight times more Americans die of bee and wasp stings than spider bites. Where does this fear come from?
     ”Certain things we are evolutionarily prepared to develop phobia of,” said Dr. Stewart Shankman, chief psychologist at Northwestern Medicine. The threat from spiders might be less now, but “throughout history more people get hurt by spiders than stoves.”
     Shankman noted that fears are transmitted from parent to child—your mother screams because of a spider, that scares you too.

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  1. I hope the following will attest to the benefits of spiders and deter arachnophobes from wantonly destroying them:

    Chemical benefits

    Cooked tarantula spiders are considered a delicacy in Cambodia.
    Spider venoms may be a less polluting alternative to conventional pesticides, as they are deadly to insects but the great majority are harmless to vertebrates. Australian funnel web spiders are a promising source, as most of the world's insect pests have had no opportunity to develop any immunity to their venom, and funnel web spiders thrive in captivity and are easy to "milk". It may be possible to target specific pests by engineering genes for the production of spider toxins into viruses that infect species such as cotton bollworms.[101]

    The Ch'ol Maya use a beverage created from the tarantula species Brachypelma vagans for the treatment of a condition they term 'tarantula wind', the symptoms of which include chest pain, asthma and coughing.[102]

    Possible medical uses for spider venoms are being investigated, for the treatment of cardiac arrhythmia,[103] Alzheimer's disease,[104] strokes,[105] and erectile dysfunction.[106] The peptide GsMtx-4, found in the venom of Brachypelma vagans, is being researched to determine whether or not it could effectively be used for the treatment of cardiac arrhythmia, muscular dystrophy or glioma.[102] Because spider silk is both light and very strong, attempts are being made to produce it in goats' milk and in the leaves of plants, by means of genetic engineering.[107][108]

    Spiders can also be used as food. Cooked tarantula spiders are considered a delicacy in Cambodia,[109] and by the Piaroa Indians of southern Venezuela – provided the highly irritant hairs, the spiders' main defense system, are removed first.[110]


  2. With all due respect, there's a big part of me feeling "oh, hell no!" right now.

  3. Sitting on the Continental divide just out of the Gila wilderness in new Mexico backpacking for a few days with my middle son. He's terrified of spiders. Didn't mention it the whole trip.
    I got bit by one no biggie.
    I'm a fan.
    It's not spiders that frighten me. It's people

  4. Glad to know you’re not afraid of spiders. I used to be, but now I don’t even flinch. I’ve caught and released many of them, with the exception of daddy long-legs in our basement. They are creepy and I kill them; I mean, you can’t “catch” those things.


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