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Save that Spider

On eight spindly legs it crawls across the table. It jumps over the edge and seems to disappear into thin air. Upon closer inspection it can be seen rappelling to the floor using the most delicate looking thread. It’s heading for the couch. Stop, don’t kill that spider! While the sighting of a spider may be unnerving, it is not a cause for smearing its guts across the floor by doing the Dougie. Spiders are actually very beneficial to have in the home. They eat the real pests like mosquitoes, roaches, ear wigs, and countless others thereby helping to stop the spread of diseases and viruses. Spiders are also solitary creatures that are unlikely to bite humans, they have proven useful to medical research, and are interesting creatures to learn about. When a spider encounters another they will fight to control their territory so it is unlikely to find very many in any given area. Although they are fierce on the scale of a few inches, these arachnids are not going to attack larger creatures like humans. They will only bite in self defense. Besides their benefits of natural pest control and relatively harmless nature, spiders are also revolutionizing medical studies. Scientists under the Journal of Venomous Animals are researching spider venom or its usefulness in stopping heart attack and stroke damage. The venom of the Chile Rose tarantula (Grammostola rosea) has been found to contain a specific protein which helps to regulate the chambers of the heart when fibrillation (a heart attack) is taking place. This venom could be used to create a life saving drug with very little chance of side effects. During a stroke glutamate is released and blocks oxygen from getting to a person’s brain. The Funnel Web spider (Atrax robustus) produces a venom which prevents glutamate from being created. Venom from this spider could therefore limit brain damage for people suffering from a stroke. In addition to serving as good subjects of medical research spiders are very interesting in general. My personal favorite is the Argyroneta aquatica, commonly known as the Diving Bell spider. This spider lives and hunts underwater. They survive by creating a bubble of air in a tangle of plants close to the surface. In this bubble, the bell diver mates, eats, and occasionally replenishes the air supply with fresh smaller bubbles brought down from the surface. However, the bell spun by this spider is so efficient at extracting oxygen from even the most stagnant water that fresh air is only needed once a day. These spiders as well as all other kinds of spiders are celebrated on national Save a Spider Day which is March 14th.

Argyroneta aquatica inside its underwater bubble

While it’s great to have a special celebration for spiders, they should be saved everyday for the good they do in our world. Spiders support biodiversity by keeping insect populations in check, they protect us from disease spread by those insect populations, and their venom may help advance medicine. It’s most likely safe to allow a spider to live in the home but for those who are unsure of the poisonous potential some spiders carry, such as black widows or brown recluses, the kind alternative is to catch and release them into the wild. This can easily be done by scooping the spider into a jar or cup using any sort of stiff paper to transport the spider safely outside. Spiders do their part everyday to save the world from disease and pests. So, save that spider.


Holding a Pink Toed Tarantula (Avicularia avicularia) at the DFW Reptarium


Sources

Platnick, Normal. Spiders of the World: A Natural History. Princeton Press, 2020.

Binkovitz, Leah. "Why We Should All Celebrate Save a Spider Day." Smithsonian, 14 Mar. 2013, www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/why-we-should-all-celebrate-save-a-spider-day-2410844/.

Wu, Ting et al. “Spider venom peptides as potential drug candidates due to their anticancer and antinociceptive activities.” The journal of venomous animals and toxins including tropical diseases vol. 25 e146318. 3 Jun. 2019, doi:10.1590/1678-9199-JVATITD-14-63-18


Heimbuch, Jaymi. "Nature Blows My Mind! The Strange SCUBA-Diving Spider." Treehugger, 11 Oct. 2018, doi:https://www.treehugger.com/nature-blows-my-mind-strange-scuba-diving-spider-4855467.


Dayton, Jon. "WHAT GETS RID OF TARANTULAS?" Pets on Mom, 26 Sept. 2017, doi:https://animals.mom.com/what-gets-rid-of-tarantulas-12552783.html.

Wilgers, Dustin. "Investigating Community Food Webs: The Ecological Importance of Spiders." Science Friday, 11 Nov. 2016, doi:https://www.sciencefriday.com/educational-resources/investigating-community-food-webs-ecological-importance-spiders/.

Yong, Ed. "The diving bell and the spider." National Geographic, 8 June 2011, www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/the-diving-bell-and-the-spider.

Ocana, Alex. "DIVING BELL SPIDERS." THE PHYSICS OF THREE BUGS, edited by Alex Ocana, ffden-2.phys.uaf.edu/webproj/212_spring_2019/Alex_Ocana/4564834545cb6cd6dcaaad/diving-bell-spiders.html.

Photo: Ocana, Alex. Diving Bell Spiders. . ffden-2.phys.uaf.edu/webproj/212_spring_2019/Alex_Ocana/4564834545cb6cd6dcaaad/diving-bell-spiders.html.


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