Scientists discover new insights into funnel-web spider venom

A group of scientists led by Dr. Linda Hernández Duran from James Cook University’s Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine has conducted a study on the venomous spiders known as funnel-webs. The research, published in the journal PLOS ONE, reveals that the venom of these spiders can vary under different circumstances, potentially offering insights into its potential uses in human health.

Dr. Hernández Duran explains that funnel-webs are the world’s most venomous spiders, possessing highly complex venoms that hold therapeutic and natural bioinsecticidal properties. Understanding the production of these venoms is a crucial step towards unlocking their potential applications.

The team collected samples from four different species of funnel-web spiders: Border Ranges (Hadronyche valida), Darling Downs (Hadronyche infensa), Southern tree-dwelling (Hadronyche cerberea), and Sydney funnel-web (Atrax robustus). They subjected the spiders to various tests, including prodding them with tweezers and stimulating them with air puffs.

To gain further insights, the researchers monitored the spiders’ behavior and measured their heart rate using a laser monitor as a proxy for metabolic rate. They then collected and analyzed the spiders’ venom using a mass spectrometer.

Dr. Hernández Duran explains that the study revealed variations in venom composition among certain spiders, depending on factors such as defensiveness and heart rate. For instance, the Border Ranges funnel-web exhibited associations between venom components, heart rate, and defensiveness, unlike the other species tested. This suggests that specific associations may be species-specific.

The study also highlighted the metabolic costs associated with venom use and aggressive behaviors in spiders. Dr. Hernández Duran suggests that spiders may employ different behavioral strategies to compensate for these costs. The findings indicate that spiders may increase their metabolic rate when using venom and reduce their movement when facing threats.

According to Dr. Hernández Duran, these findings establish a connection between behavior, physiology, and venom composition in funnel-web spiders. The study provides valuable insights into the ecological role of venom and lays the groundwork for further exploration and understanding of its potential applications.

In summary, Dr. Linda Hernández Duran and her team have conducted a study on the venomous funnel-web spiders, uncovering variations in venom composition based on different circumstances. These findings offer important insights into the link between behavior, physiology, and venom composition, potentially paving the way for future applications in human health.

Source: James Cook University

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