Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Tiny Tarantula in My Bedroom Sparks an Adventure With Helen

We live in the high desert Arizona so it's not uncommon to find snakes, scorpions, and spiders in our house.  Last night, just as we were getting ready to go to bed, my husband calls out to me from the bedroom saying that we had baby tarantula in our room, and could I catch him and take him outside.  Yes, he expects me to catch him...I'm the official critter catcher at our house. I grabbed a glass from the kitchen and scooped up the little tarantula.  He didn't seem too afraid of me, thankfully tarantulas move much slower than other spiders.  This was the second baby I found in our room in a week.

Baby Tarantula found in our bedroom.

Once safely in the glass, but before I secured a lid on top (with air holes of course), I took a picture and sent it to my friend Helen, knowing she would appreciate my find.  She suggested that we take it to Chuck at the SpiderPharm here in our community.  Chuck milks spiders and scorpions of their venom, which is used in scientific studies and made into anti-venom. I hadn't met Chuck yet and wanted to see his spider and scorpion venom milking operation that Helen had been telling me about.  She made the call and set up a time for the next afternoon.

Chuck and his wife Anita are the nicest people.  Chuck took a break from his very busy schedule of milking spiders to give us a mini tour of their place, that started with a demonstration of him milking a Daddy Long-Leg of its venom.  Speaking of Daddy Long-Legs, have you heard that they have more toxic venom then a black widow, but can't bite as deep, therefore they cannot penetrate human skin?  Well Chuck was called in to the MythBusters show (13th episode) and they busted that myth.  Here is a video clip where you can see Chuck milking the spider.

Nitrous Oxide Gas = Sleepy Spiders.
Watching Chuck milk a spider in person was so awesome.  In preparation for the milking he turns on nitrous oxide gas that goes up to some jars partially filled with a clear liquid, the gas bubbles through the liquid and then passes through small tubes to the individual cups on a tray where each cup contains one spider.  Chuck regulates which spider get the gas using several valves, this way he can put individual spiders to sleep as needed.  

While asleep he takes them out of the cup (using his bare hands!) and grips them gently with a set of tweezers hooked to a tiny electrode.  Then he holds them under a microscope so he can see them up close.  He can see them so well that he can even tell if their little mouths are dirty.  If they are, he cleans them with a rinsing solution, then sucks the water off.  Then he places a mico-tiny syringe up to their face and just as he pushes a foot pedal to give them a little shock, he extracts the venom they expel.  Amazing!

Chuck said it takes about 500 black-widow milkings to get enough venom to equal a single drop!  500!!! That must take a very long time even as quick as he does it.  It takes a lot of spiders on hand to get that much venom...which he has.  He took us to the rooms where he keeps all these spiders, there were easily thousands of them.  Two rooms filled floor to ceiling with racks holding tray after tray lined with small cups, each containing a single spider.  He also had some larger dishes housing tarantulas, and several tubs of scorpions too.  It was very tight quarters in those two rooms.  Can you imagine what would happen if a burglar unwittingly broke into that place and stumbled into the racks? OMG, that would be punishment enough I think.

While we visited, Chuck showed me what a Brown Recluse spider looks like.  Their bite causes your flesh to die, its really nasty stuff.  I have seen spiders around my home and suspected they were Brown Recluse, but now that I saw one in person, I know they were some other kind of spiders.   Next time I will catch one and let Chuck tell me what it actually is.  He also showed me two common types of scorpions in this area, one is more toxic then the other, but both will give you a painful sting. We have lots of scorpions around here. I find many of them dead in the house, thanks to my cats, but on occasion I will find a live one.  Now I know what to look for to tell if its the really toxic ones, or the not so toxic ones (not that either one is good).

Brown Recluse Spider at the SpiderPharm.

As we were about to leave, Helen told Chuck and Anita that I am the 'Chicken Lady'...apparently I have a reputation in my town, ha ha.  Anita said, "Oh, then I have something for your chickens they will pupae!"  They took us around back to another building where they cultivate fly and gnat larve that they feed to the spiders and scorpions, about every two days. I cannot imaging feeding those thousands of spiders in individual little homes every other day! That must take hours.  Anita handed me a shoebox tray of pupae (the stage just before becoming flying flies) letting me know they were only fed organic food (just like my chickens).  I promised her I would bring the tray back soon, along with some fresh eggs as a thank you.

Fly Pupae (and some larve)

Once home I poured the fly pupae into the 'girls' dish and within 5 minutes they had devoured every last one.  Thank you my friend  Helen for this very interesting afternoon!  Helen is always inviting me to do and see interesting things - look for an upcoming post about our trip to a nudest bookstore.


Keeper of 1 husband, 2 grandkids, 3 dogs,
3 cats, and 17 Chickens!
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Did this post stir something inside of you? If so, Please leave me a comment, I would love to know what you're thinking!!!