The most used costume for any Halloween party is a spider. According to Google Trend stats, spider costumes are 87th most searched. These several leg creatures have been long used to make the audience believe that the darkroom on the big cinema screen is real and creepy. For several centuries spiders have been the symbol of creepiness. But hold that thought these spiders are so much more than just an epitome of horror.
What are spiders?
Belonging to arachnids, they are a special class of arthropods. Other members of this class are mites, ticks, and scorpions. With more than 45,000 known species of spiders, these arthropods have homes all around the world. They come in a variety of shapes and abilities. Some are cannibals that look like pelicans and some can even jump on demand. The tinnitus spiders are tiny samoan moss spiders and the largest one is goliath birdeater tarantula. It is big enough to feast upon frogs and rodents.
Before diving into the scientific details let us jog your memory with some facts:
6. The females of the red widow are big eaters.
7. Some spiders suffer from nearsightedness.
8. If they can jump, they will jump up to 50x of their length.
10. Females do all the main work because they can lay up to 3,000 eggs at one time.
11. There exists one species that is totally vegetarian; it is Bagheera kiplingi.
12. Over 100 species of ants can be spiders in disguise.
13. Oh, Tarantella!!! A dance form in Italy inspired by tarantula or wolf spiders
Food; What They Eat and How?
Spiders are notorious carnivores because they will either trap their prey in the silky mesh or they will hunt them. Because of the absence of teeth, they neither tear nor swallow their food. On the other hand, they have a very distinctive pattern which they follow. After trapping their prey and making sure that they are not going anywhere they release various digestive liquids, then they suck out the remains which have been liquified. 100 points for creepiness!
The Eyes What They Do Exactly?
All those eyes that sit gloriously on this insect, what’s their prime job? Well, they are not there to provide a wider spectrum of visibility but on the other hand, despite having those eyes, spiders suffer from nearsightedness. Spiders, like salticids or jumping spiders, rather thrive with the help of colorful filters that are present in front of their eyes. They can even see in the visual spectrum of red, green, and UV light.
Spider Venoms: Let’s Learn About Them!
Though all spider species are venomous, only a handful are harmful to humans. The venom of brown recluse results in localized tissue death and that of Northern black widow spider, which bites about 2,500 people a year, acts as nerve poison. The bite of deadliest funnel web spiders can kill a human in 15 minutes. Our knowledge of the effects of bites is limited because, in most cases, the spider isn’t identified.
Spider venoms are notable because they contain a handful of chemicals. Starting with neurotoxins which have been evolved to make the prey immobilize. These toxic substances can easily kill because they start attacking the nervous system. The other group of toxins is cytotoxins which help in the ingestion of the digestive fluid by breaking down the primary tissue layer.
Spider Venom and Humans; The Underlying Relationship
Spider venoms are special because they have a very biological origin. They are a defense mechanism as well as a hunting method. Spiders tend to release these biological chemicals either when they are in danger to protect themselves or when they have an appetite.
These venoms have very special constituents, ranging from proteins, peptides to sugars. These chemicals can also affect the major human body functions such as can interfere with the transfer of oxygen or can cause serious body pains.
Evolution of spider venom to treat diseases
Spiders and their deadly toxins can now be used for the treatment of chronically serious diseases. According to the latest research, this cocktail of chemicals promises the potential to block the pain-inducing pathways that are involved in pain, epilepsy, and stroke.
Glenn King, from the University of Queensland’s Institute of Molecular Biosciences (IBM), is the first one to find this distinctive potential, that too by accident. He came across this property when his collaborator asked him to analyze a toxin that was found in the venom of a Fraser Island’s funnel-web spider’s web. This research then took a significant turn with a paper in Nature Structural and Molecular Biology.
He further discovered that this deadly venom has more than 3,000 components which makes it one of the complex biological arsenal to exist. The lab in which King is working at this current moment boasts a rich culture with more than 600 species of spiders, scorpions, assassin bugs, and centipedes Venom. Funnel-web spider venom has a rich amount of proteins and peptides that not only just interact but also positively modulate the ion channels and receptors activities in the nervous system of mammals.
According to researchers, sodium channels play a vital role in the transmission of information from the peripheral nervous system to the central nervous system. This channel is extremely important because it both detects the pain and also provides a conducting pathway for the stimuli. Thus, it helps to establish the onset of chronic pain disorders.
With this discovery, the research team focused on the involvement of ion channels in serious and deadly diseases. He further added that “We know these venoms are full of ion channel modulators, so we thought maybe we could use them as libraries to screen against ion channel drug targets that we know about.”
Glenn King and his research team have found some groundbreaking success in this field with uncovering possible therapeutic remedies for Dravet syndrome, epilepsy, stroke, and abdominal pain.
It is a chronic and life-threatening form of epilepsy that mostly affects children during their first year. This medical condition is mainly due to a mutation that causes a significant reduction in the amount of NaV1.1. This is a sodium channel that is highly critical to make sure that the brain is functioning exceptionally well.
When a person encounters a stroke, the acid-sensing ion channel is activated. This activation causes a spiral of neurons to trigger which can initiate a deadly response. But with this path-breaking research, a peptide Pn3a has been found which binds to this ion channel and stops the activation, and thus inhibits the fatal response. Plus, it is highly selective and non-addictive.
Stroke is a highly time-dependent disorder because every minute millions of neurons die due to the activation. The scale and implication of this research, in this case, are wide and global. This deadly disease either causes fatality or permanent disability. With this new research, millions of lives can be saved.
Spiders, despite their deadly reputation worldwide, have significant potential to help save millions from chronic diseases. With more scientific advancements and researches, the prospect of this spider venom evolution is massive and highly promising.
Nida Riaz is a freelance blogger based in Pakistan. She started writing about her passion for the environment when the world came to a stop in early 2020.