How ‘Bout Those Awesome Arachnids!

1 August 2014 by Susan E. Swanberg, posted in Blog Posts

It's been about a week now since I joined SciLogs as a blogger. Thank you all for the great welcome!

One of the things I've enjoyed as a new member of SciLogs is exploring my fellow bloggers' sites.

One blogger, Christopher Buddle, quickly caught my attention. His blog is named Expiscor. Buddle's now on hiatus, but I'm particularly drawn to some of his subjects — those wild and crazy arachnids. If you check out Buddle's blog entries and his twitter feed, you'll see that he studies and writes about these leggy creatures and he tweets some great spider images.

This could be a male Arizona blond tarantula (Aphonopelma chalcodes) out looking for a mate. Am I correct spider experts?

This could be a male Arizona blond tarantula (Aphonopelma chalcodes). Am I correct spider experts? He was probably out and about looking for a mate. Credit Susan E. Swanberg

Here in the Sonoran desert we have some amazing arachnids — tarantulas and scorpions, for example. Living among them is not as bad as you might think. As a matter of fact some of our venomous (not poisonous) arachnids are pretty fascinating. Scorpions happen to be my favorites. [Note: not all arachnids are venomous.]

Scorpions are notorious hitchhikers. In 2008 a West Virginia girl was stung by a scorpion lurking in a display of watermelons at a Wal-Mart and in 2009 the Winkler Post recounted the story of a scorpion found by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists at the Miami International Airport on the bag of a passenger from El Salvador.

In 2011 ABC News reported that an Oregon man by the name of Jeff Ellis, on a red-eye flight from Seattle to Anchorage, was stung by a striped bark scorpion that had probably stowed away in the baggage of an earlier passenger from Texas. The victim recovered quickly, and the airline gave him 4,000 frequent-flyer miles and two round-trip tickets to compensate for the inconvenience.

In one of the most disturbing versions of the hitchhiking story, ABC News described an incident involving a Southwest Airlines passenger. The passenger, Doug Herbstommer, was traveling from Phoenix to Indianapolis when a scorpion in his carry-on baggage stung him. A total of six scorpions, including babies, were found in the overhead bin after all the passengers disembarked.

Although airline officials say scorpion stowaways are rare, there are many reports about scorpions hitching a ride. As Rare Disease Therapeutics, Inc., the company that helped shepherd a scorpion anti venom through the FDA approval process points out, “It’s rare until it happens to you.”

an Arizona bark scorpion. Photograph by Susan E. Swanberg

An Arizona bark scorpion Credit: Susan E. Swanberg

Arizona's most infamous scorpion is the bark scorpion. It's venom is particularly dangerous to young children and vulnerable adults. In 2011 the Food and Drug Administration approved a next-generation scorpion antivenom (Anascorp) for the treatment of bark scorpion stings.


There's a bark scorpion genome project in progress, and I'm anxiously awaiting an article that will explain the features of the genome. The bark scorpion project is part of the i5K Initiative which will eventually sequence the genomes of 5000 arthropods (arachnids fall within the phylum arthropoda). The bark scorpion genome sequencing is part of the initiative's 28-arthropod pilot project.

Why study the genome of a venomous arachnid? One reason is that venom, while it can kill, might also have healing properties. For example, read the 2013 story of the boy who found relief from the pain of his ankylosing spondylitis after he'd been stung by a bark scorpion

Then there's the physician/researcher who developed a tumor paint using a molecule found in death stalker scorpion venom. This paint may make it easier for surgeons to locate and remove cancers.

There's a lot more to say about arachnids, but for now I'll leave you with one thought. Next time you see a spider in your shower, just celebrate those awesome arachnids. Someday the venom of one of them just might cure what ails you.


One for the road — Who can tell me the name of this awesome arachnid?

See if you can guess the name of this arachnid.

See if you can guess the name of this arachnid. Is it venomous? Credit: Susan E. Swanberg







2 Responses to “How ‘Bout Those Awesome Arachnids!”

  1. Paige Brown Jarreau Reply | Permalink

    Awesome pictures!! And I totally didn't know that about scorpions - I wonder what makes them tend to get inside bags, etc. and hitchhike, and they when/why they eventually sting?

  2. Susan E. Swanberg Reply | Permalink

    Thank you!

    They like to get into protected places. Outside they often hide in crevices in the bark of a tree, hence the name bark scorpion. Once they're disturbed, look out! My husband carried one in his luggage from Tucson to Sacramento. It climbed out of his suitcase and into a shirt in the closet. When he put on the shirt, he got stung. The doctors had to look up "scorpion stings" in Wikipedia, because they didn't know what to do.

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