All right, all right, I guess there are legit reasons some people fear spiders

They are venomous, after all, some more than others.

The bite of the king baboon spider (which looks like a tarantula and lives primarily in Tanzania and Kenya) is not lethal, but it does produce a lot of pain in hapless victims. In this new effort to discover why, the researchers conducted a proteotranscriptomic analysis of the venom to identify possible peptides that they thought might be involved in producing pain. They identified one known as Pm1a (prior work has shown that it is typically involved in modulating dorsal root ganglion receptors in nerve cells.) They then synthesized the peptide to allow for NMR spectroscopy to ascertain its structure.

Next, they studied the impact of the peptide on mice by injecting a small amount into a toe. That allowed them to see that the peptide modulated ion channels and incited excitatory sodium currents. At the same time, it also reduced potassium currents that are typically involved in inhibiting excitatory currents. The end result was hyperexcitability in nerve cells, which, to the mouse, meant pain. To conclude their work, the researchers created a mathematical model of the peptide and its impact on nerve cells to further prove that it was the main driver of pain in victims of the spider’s bite.

The researchers also note that the hyperexcitability they saw in the mouse nerve cells very much resembled the type of hyperexcitability seen in people who experience chronic pain. They suggest that a better understanding of how spider venom can produce similar results could perhaps lead to a way to reduce pain in these patients.

I used to work down the hallway from a lab studying conotoxins. They’d collect the venom from cone snails, chemically separate its components, and then inject each fraction into a mouse to see what would happen. Sometimes nothing. Sometimes excruciating pain. Sometimes bleeding from the eyes. Sometimes they’d fall asleep. Sometimes they’d die instantly. It was fascinating stuff that yielded all kinds of interesting molecules with useful neurological effects. But you had to sometimes wonder, who was the monster? The organism that produced the venoms, who lived in a place these mice would never encounter, or the investigator who imported the toxins and afflicted them on hordes of mice, for the betterment of humankind?

Besides, the King Baboon spider has such a cute and adorable face. (No, no, no, arachnophobes. Don’t click through.)


  1. PaulBC says

    Such a dignified countenance. And I’m sure it just wants to be left alone. I’ll be happy to oblige.

  2. birgerjohansson says

    I tried to bring up the King Baboon spider a week ago. Any spider can have a go at being deadly – they are predators after all- but it takes a certain finesse to achieve maximum pain!
    Can we please cross-breed this spider with Portia?

  3. bmatchick says

    I’m not arguing against animal research, but I though there were laws or some kind of research guidelines which required pain management and other protocols to prevent animal suffering. I doesn’t sound like excruciating pain and bleeding from the eyes is justified to play around with a few compounds. I don’t know anything about the laws here, but how is this considered ethical or allowed? I’ve read things PZ said on this topic (pain management, etc), but what he describes sounds over the line to me. Maybe now that’s why they’re sticking to toe injections. :)

  4. fusilier says

    Reminds me more of an orang-utan, but still, as PaulBC @2 says, “Such a dignified countenance.”


    James 2:24

  5. christoph says

    “But you had to sometimes wonder, who was the monster?”
    I’m going with the investigator. You have to be a cold blooded bastard to inflict that kind of pain in order to ascertain what you already know.

  6. Walter Solomon says

    bmatchick @5

    I doesn’t sound like excruciating pain and bleeding from the eyes is justified to play around with a few compounds.

    I doubt the researchers knew that the compound would affect the mouse in that way until after they injected it with the compound. That said, the ethical thing to do, it seems, would be to euthanize the mouse once it became obvious that it was in excruciating pain.

    It is somewhat apropos to the mouse situation to point out that glue mouse traps are still sold. If you’ve ever seen a mouse caught on one, you’d understand those traps, as opposed to either humane or the instant kill variety, causes torment for the mouse.

  7. davidc1 says

    Feck,it reminds me of that twat face twat johnson.
    Do I get a ‘Who is a big brave soldier’ for clicking on it and not screaming like a little girl?

    Okay,so I lied about the screaming.

  8. christoph says

    @Walter Solomon, #13: I agree. I’ve gotten into some ugly discussions with people who use glue traps. Hideous things.

  9. Walter Solomon says

    christoph @15

    Full disclosure: I’m just as guilty for using them myself. They are cheap and tend to work better than the others I found. I try to quickly kill the mouse after it’s caught but I’m under no delusions about the pain those traps cause the mouse.

  10. PaulBC says

    I would question what you’re even trying to discover by testing toxins on whole animals. Given that you have a good reason to believe it will cause suffering, you could start by testing it in vitro. From that, you can at least extrapolate roughly what might happen and stop if it looks likely to cause a great deal of pain. You might never know exactly what it does on the whole animal, but there are many things for which the value of knowing is small compared to the suffering inflicted.

    Animals may die in many different ways. Is it “science” to enumerate all of them just to catalog the effects?

  11. davidc1 says

    @13 First I have heard of glue traps for Mice,are they the same as Lime traps people used to use for Birds,and still
    do around the Med,unless they have be banned.
    Which means people are still using them.
    @17 The pain involved in one critter munching on another was one of the things that turned Charles Darwin away front the idea of a merciful big sky daddy.

  12. PaulBC says

    Walter Solomon@16

    I try to quickly kill the mouse after it’s caught

    That suddenly made me think of the farmer who lived behind my family’s suburban house when I was little. He would set out traps for groundhogs, and not humane traps. I think they could be described as steel-jaw traps. But then he would go out with his 22 (or so my older brother told me when I incorrectly called it a shotgun) and and shoot any groundhogs he found in the traps. He was a retiree who paid others to plant his crops, and actually a very good neighbor who let us walk through his property. I’m sure this routine struck him as appropriate and humane. I would never do that, but it brought back memories.

    I had an apartment in Baltimore where every so often I would have to put out classic mousetraps, not glue traps. They usually worked. I felt bad about it and was willing to live with them if I only saw one at a time on an infrequent basis.

  13. Walter Solomon says

    davic1 @18

    are they the same as Lime traps people used to use for Birds

    I had to look those up because I wasn’t familiar with them. Yes, they are similar. The difference is for mice the glue is layered over a thick square of paper.

    It also gives off a sweet smell that is supposed to attract the mouse. I doubt the smell does much because the traps aren’t very effective unless you put it in the path way the mouse uses to run around.

  14. Walter Solomon says

    PaulBC @19k

    I felt bad about it and was willing to live with them if I only saw one at a time on an infrequent basis.

    For me I rarely use any traps because I kinda like the mice and have a game where I like to see how close they’ll get to me before getting spooked.

    The only thing I’m wary about is them nesting in the stove. When we moved in this row house a few years back, the old stove that was here was full of mouse droppings. Even when it was clean, it gave off an odor when the oven was on. We baked with an electric, countertop oven. The range worked fine though.

    Nowadays, we have a new stove and we turned the oven on, even if we’re not baking anything, to deter any mice who might be thinking about occupying the stove.

  15. says

    Meh, I’m not afraid of spiders. I respect them, however. Getting bitten by anything can be quite painful so I’d rather not risk it.

    I’m also the type to try a humane trap for mice and letting them out in the woods a ways from my house. They have a chance to survive and if they don’t, the food chain won’t be disrupted. However, I refuse to use poison of any kind to kill mice; it’s moving up the food chain and killing animals like bobcats, cougars, and birds of prey. Not cool.

  16. David Utidjian says

    auntbenjy @ 21

    Exactly! Coloring, shape and even expression gives me impression that it is an Orangutan spider. A very very orangutan spider.

  17. unclefrogy says

    the problem with mice and rats is not how much they eat but how much the spoil with their urine and feces. glue traps are fly paper and no one worries too much about flies , traps are more selective than poisons and bates and only act once

  18. Jazzlet says

    Food spoilage is not the only problem with mice and rats They are obligated to chew to keep their teeth, which continue to grow throughout their lives, at a reasonable length; if they chew electrical cable they can and do cause fires.

  19. ravensneo says

    If you disagree with testing in mice then do not take the medications that required in vivo testing to figure out the side effects, right dose, and if it would kill you. Maybe your opinion of who is the monster would change if, from these studies, you benefited from a drug developed to treat your chronic pain. Only psychopathic scientists would enjoy inflicting pain on a test animal. There are ethics guidelines in practice.
    It is like abortion. No normal person is pro-abortion, in terms of let’s go abort fetuses for no reason–that would be a bad thing. But the worse evil is not allowing it at all.

  20. PaulBC says


    If you disagree with testing in mice

    Nice straw man. No one in this thread has endorsed a blanket ban on animal testing. There still needs to be a better justification than the pursuit of knowledge. Every new way I can come up with to torment a mouse could presumably give me new “science” about how mice react to stuff.

    I agree that testing medications is one justification. I haven’t seen anyone above suggest otherwise.

    Only psychopathic scientists would enjoy inflicting pain on a test animal.

    Doubtful. There are cruel people who are mentally healthy. Presumably some of them are scientists. I’m not saying it’s a significant number, but your assurance is misguided.

    I’d need a better understanding of why PZ’s colleague was studying conotoxins to comment on the ethics. Maybe there was a good reason for it. There’s no evidence that this was to develop medical treatments. As described, it sounds like basic research into conotoxins. Could they have made comparable progress more humanely? Again, I lack the information to draw a conclusion, but it’s entirely possible that they might have treated their mice better and advanced the frontiers of science just as far.

    There are ethics guidelines in practice.

    Yes, and like everything else, compliance is imperfect. I have non-permitted additions on my house (they were there when I moved in). I’m technically non-compliant with my city on replanting a tree for two birches that died (I planted one and I’m working on the other). I routinely speed 10mph above the speed limit to keep up with prevailing traffic. PZ’s colleague probably had to fill out some paperwork. Does that mean they were totally compliant with the spirt of the guidelines, let alone the letter? Human beings take shortcuts all the time.

    BTW, I doubt this person was a “monster” or was interested in being cruel to mice. It’s certainly possible that they ran experiments that might have been carried out more humanely but they put expedience ahead of that.

  21. davidc1 says

    @28 On the Eastern,them commie mice used to chew on the electric wiring in German Tanks.
    Don’t know if they did the same to the Russian tanks.
    @29 Just because France banned it,doesn’t mean it still happens.
    In France they eat a small Songbird,Ortolan bunting,for some strange reason some people cover their heads while they are doing it,what’s that all about?