Red in Tooth and Claw and Paralysis

Feel the need for an empathy workout? Think of one of the most horrifying creatures you can imagine–GIANT SPIDER!!! Got that? Good. Now try feeling sorry for it.

Having trouble? Don’t worry. My son the naturalist will help you get there. Read on.

Pura Vida Stories

Nature is not a friendly place.  Life is often nasty, brutish, and short, and death is no picnic either.  There are some truly sadistic ways animals have dreamed up to dispatch and consume each other.  Most fish swallow each other whole, leaving the prey to suffocate in a sack of stomach acid.  Spiders immobilize their prey in webs and make them hang there, helpless and dreading, until they decide to liquefy them from the inside.  But even spiders deserve some pity for what can befall them.

Hold on to your stomachs, folks.  This is about to get national geo-graphic.Hold on to your stomachs, folks. This is about to get national geo-graphic.

Pictured above is a tarantula hawk wasp.  The unfortunate critter nearby is a tarantula.  The spider has been stung and paralyzed by the wasp, and can’t move much more than a groggy twitch.  The wasp is currently excavating a burrow in which she will drag the tarantula, safe from the prying…

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Factoid #16: Tarantula Hairs??

Mexcian Redknee Tarantula (courtesy WIkipedia)

Mexcian Redknee Tarantula (courtesy WIkipedia)

You know they bite.

But did you know that tarantulas can also get you with their tiny hairs? It’s called “urticulating.” They can either loose them defensively–kind of like a porcupine with its quills–or rub them off on you. These hairs contain tiny amounts of venom which can’t, of course, kill you (just as the tarantula’s bite can’t kill you, unless you’re a mouse–but you knew that, right?), but can be very painful and irritating.

BUT DID YOU ALSO KNOW that some in the medical community are investigating the use of tarantula venom for treating muscular dystrophy? Apparently they’ve identified a peptide in the venom that, when artificially produced, can improve muscle activity. At least in mice. So stay tuned about human health advances, and meanwhile…be nice to spiders.

Because you never know. Those urticulating hairs of theirs might just be worth harvesting someday.

Thanks to my baker-colleague Ben for sending this weird topic my way.