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SPIDER2According to some experts, as many as 50% of American women and 10% of men have a spider phobia. Here are some fascinating facts that may help us all appreciate the bug we love to hate.

  1. Spider venom can be good for you—when it’s been made into a medicine, that is. Venom has been shown to kill pain, control seizure activity, and prevent brain damage from strokes. To my knowledge there are no FDA-approved medicines available to-date, but there are a few in the making.
  2. Spider venom may one day be used to create eco-friendly pesticides. For example, Glenn King, a University of Connecticut research scientist, is studying the venom of Australia’s Blue Mountains Funnel-Web Spider. Its venom paralyzes insects, but not vertebrates—which means that it is safe for humans, pets, and farm animals.
  3. The tricky part, of course, is how to get the venom out of the spider. When the Blue Mountains Funnel-Web Spider is about to strike, it “rears up” into a fighting stance. If they move quickly enough, researchers can use tools to suck the venom directly out of the fangs.
  4. At a place called the Spider Pharm in Arizona, the venom of about 50,000 spiders a day is “milked.” Typically, spiders are anesthetized, picked up with tweezers, and put under a microscope. Then they get a little electrical shock that stimulates production of venom, which is suctioned out of the spiders’ fangs.
  5. Spider silk has potential uses as replacement muscle in humans. It’s 50 times as strong.
  6. Here’s a tip from Steven Kutcher, the spider manager and handler on the 1990 movie Arachnophpobia, which was about a large South American jungle spider accidentally transported to a small California town where it mated with a local spider produced killer babes. To discourage spiders from entering your home, spray Lemon Pledge on windowsills and doorframes. Kutcher told me he isn’t sure why this works.
  7. You can’t teach an old spider new tricks. I say that because, according to Kutcher, you can’t teach a spider any tricks. Still, there are ways to control a spider’s behavior. If you want to get a spider to turn right at a particular point in its path, for example, you have to make both turning left and continuing straight ahead uncomfortable. One of Kutcher’s tricks is blowing a hair dryer where he doesn’t want spiders to go.
  8. The vast majority of the spiders used in the movie Arachnophobia were real. Which means that, while the character played by Jeff Bridges may have been arachnophobic, Jeff Bridges certainly wasn’t.
  9. Remember the scene in Arachophobia where the exterminator—played by John Goodman—crushed a large spider under his foot? Well, the horribly impressive sound you heard was actually the sound of a bag of potato chips getting crushed.
  10. Here’s an interesting fact about spiders and public policy. After monitoring peoples’ skin for electrical reactivity, researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln concluded that people who are especially reactive to frightening pictures of spiders also tend to be in favor of defense spending, strong immigration controls, and money for fighting terrorism.
  11. And here’s recent, good news about black widow spiders and us. By and large, black widows are not the killers many of us assumed they were. In three experiments conducted at Loma Linda University’s School of Public Health, researchers used gelatin “fingers” to poke and pinch black widow spiders. They wanted to find out how often and how viciously the spiders defended themselves. The good news is that, when poked, the black widows tended to move away from the gelatin finger. When poked repeatedly, they flicked silk at it. When pinched on the leg, they sometimes bit, though often the bites were “dry,” containing no venom. Only when pinched on the body was payback usually immediate and awful.
  12. And even “awful” wasn’t that bad. Despite popular belief, black widow venom is not usually fatal to humans. It does, however, cause days of crippling pain. Venom that strong is metabolically expensive for a spider to produce. And so, the Loma Linda University researchers concluded, black widows can’t afford to be serial killers. We’ve got black widow spiders in Vermont, and so I was very happy to learn this.