Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Sicarius Spider

Image: Aldo Tapia A. via Flickr
Isn't it terrible? You're on your summer holidays, trying to get through your list of 100 things to do before you die. You swam with dolphins, you parachuted from a plane, you even showered in a waterfall using actual fruits and flowers as shampoo and shower gel. You persevered through that last one even though you felt dirtier the longer it went on and you had to take a long bath afterwards to get the stench of rotting fruit out of your hair.

Now you're onto number 57: overthrow a national government.

It hasn't gone as well as you'd hoped. Many of your co-conspirators have been captured and you had to admit defeat and run for the hills. I say hills, I really mean dunes, because you cleverly ensured you had a good, well provisioned escape route through the desert. They'll never suspect that!

Image: Wikimedia
You feel uneasy, though. You can see for miles across the barren landscape and you know no-one's following you, and yet... you can't help but feel you're being watched. Always. Watched.

Could it be the dreaded Sicarius? If it is, you're already dead. No-one escapes that elite group of desert assassins.

Their very name sends a chill down your spine, which actually feels quite nice in the desert heat. The sica was an ancient dagger or short sword. Sicarius means "dagger-man". And that became the Latin word for "assassin".

They are clearly very proud of their work. Unfortunately this pride isn't enough for them to loudly proclaim their presence for all to hear. That would be useful. Instead, you're more likely to just suddenly become dead while out on a walk.

Sicarius is a genus of spiders from the deserts of South America and Africa. They are expert ambush predators who can disappear in seconds, becoming completely hidden beneath the sand. They have a flattened body to help out and grains of sand even stick to their back so that their camouflaged even when they're not buried.

Deserts are famed for being mostly dead, so it can be a long wait before something pleasing walks by. Sicarius duly survive without food of water for a long time and can live for over a decade, which is impressive given that a lot of spiders have a lifespan of scarcely more than a year.

When a promising victim blunders past, Sicarius strikes with its poisoned daggers. Their venom is utterly brutal, there is absolutely NO messing around. Death is swift for their usual insect prey. It takes a little longer for rabbits...

It was an experiment involving the venom of S. hahni, the Six-eyed Sand Spider. They don't usually go around biting rabbits; they're assassins, not barbarians! However, their venom had the effect of killing the rabbits in 5 to 12 hours.

Image: Wikimedia
The problem is the venom's incredibly powerful necrotic effect. It just kills cells! A bite causes open sores of dead skin, as if someone accidentally got splashed with liquefied death (the dark side of homeopathy). In the rabbits, these lesions reached 2.5 cm (an inch) across, which is bigger than the spider's body and about half its legspan. Oh, and the actual dead bits were surrounded in purple bruising which could reach 10 cm (4 in) across.

It all gets worse if the cytotoxins get into the blood. Red blood cells get killed, the heart kidneys and liver all suffer damage and arteries get blocked. It's potentially lethal, and even if it's not lethal it's still terrible, long lasting effects.

There is no antivenom available, however bites are exceedingly rare. They live in the desert for goodness sake! They're not one of these guys who make a home for themselves in your bathroom. And even if they did, they seem to be reasonably docile and not extravagantly aggressive.

This, of course, is the kind of thing you expect from an assassin. They can't go about slaughtering for sheer bravado when they have a job to do. This is one contract killer who I'm pleased to say is a consummate professional.


TexWisGirl said...

a spider that can live 10 yrs?! eek!

Comment1 said...

Yes! Seems disturbingly ambitious.

Chloƫ Langley said...

Wow, these assassins look like plants! Just look at the first picture. Just like some dry, desert spiny plant. Now that is camouflage!

Comment1 said...

They do! I'm glad no plant is quite as lethal on the skin as this is. Stinging nettles are quite enough for me.

Crunchy said...

These guys look horrible and nasty and spidery and awful, but after watching that diggy diggy hole video I can't help but find them utterly adorable.

Wait, the rabbit died? So, they're pregnant?

Comment1 said...

They look incredibly cute when they're digging! I especially liked the one that dug an extra deep hole so it could fit its food in.

Peter Perrotta said...

See this is the kind of thing that annoys me...
First of all, this website makes out these spiders to be awful things, just waiting to kill humans? These spiders have adapted to their environment, which is why they are so venomous. They need to be able to kill almost any prey because of their remote location.

Second of all, they do not live in South America. They live in south Asia and Africa.

Oh you said live up to 10 years? No they can actually live up to around 15-17 years.

Also, it is called necrotoxic venom, a type of biotoxin. No, not neurotoxin, this has necrotoxins. What venoms do is destroy protien structures. Necrotoxins in the Sicarius, unlike similar venoms from the brown recluse, a close relative, the venom can enter the bloodstream and destroy red blood cells by "popping" them. The problem arises when red blood cells are created, and then those are also "popped". The kidneys will not be able to filter the blood because of all the dead cell membranes. Clotting will occur. At this point, the organism that was bit would have no control over internal vital functions, such as regulating body temperature and so on and so forth. Another property of necrotoxins is that they have neurotic effects, and brain damage can occur. The venom is capable of destroying tissue as well. I know this stuff sounds "scary" and all, but honestly, humans have a much larger impact on other organisms than the Sicarius does. Don't get me wrong, I am no environmentalist, but the fact that people read this and hate them for being so deadly is just absurd.

People label these as "gross" and this website calls them a monstrosity? I happen to love mine, she loves the great space she has in her enclosure. Just to make you all feel better, I have one, and many other hobbyists as daring as I am also have them, as well as black widows, and equally, if not more deadly scorpions! Being a former arachnaphobe, I know where some of you are coming from. But to people that may not be real phobes and only hate these beautiful creatures because they are very venomous are just being ignorant.

Joseph Jameson-Gould said...

1. I don't think I made them out to be awful things just waiting to kill humans. I think it's pretty clear I used an absurd introduction to throw in a bunch of jokes and explain the meaning of their name before moving on to why exactly they're called that.

2. The reason why they got their name turned out to come from the adaptations to their environment, which I talked about.

3. Did a search, I can't see anything saying they live in Asia.

4. I said they live for "over a decade".

5. I never mentioned neurotoxin.

6. Yup, necrotoxic venom is scary stuff! I'm sure I could have done lots more research and gone into all sorts of different details, but I seldom go into the precise effects of venoms. Necrotoxin is more interesting than most, but I'm not particularly fascinated in venom.

7. Everything here is called a monstrosity! Basically it's all the stuff I found most interesting as a child, which was insects and deep sea oddities and carnivorous plants and the like. So long as it wasn't a boring tree, bird or mammal, I'd probably like it. I'm sure I could go on and on about how they're all beautiful and how all sorts of people keep all sorts of things as pets, but then I'd be saying the exact same thing every week. It's difficult enough trying to mention reproduction if it isn't particularly novel.

The entire blog is about appreciating monstrous, bizarre and essentially ugly life. I don't call them beautiful, I just don't think ugliness is a bad thing. In fact, ugly things tend to be a lot more interesting than pretty things. But I'm not prejudiced, if I find something that's pretty but sufficiently bizarre, they'll find a place, too.

As far as I can see, most of the regular readers here share or at least understand the angle I take. I have no problem describing something in a morbid fashion, but I don't do it because I hate them, I do it because I like them.

Austin Raymond said...

i like the way it digs and the spider does infact live in south Africa and there is no report on biting of humans and the body lenght is up to 1 to 2 inches and the leg spans up to 4 inches. and this spider does infact mean assassin and that is alright with me because i can trust it "will do the job right"

Joseph Jameson-Gould said...

We all like a job well done, whatever that job may be...

Tommy C. said...

I just got two of these today. They eerily look like recluse spiders with the long lanky legs, but larger body. I've worked on a farm here in Texas where I came across a brown recluse spider. It was actually a deep south Texas species that, I kid you not, had a leg span of close to 3 inches, or slightly bigger than tennis ball size. I put a quarter next to it which the quarter was dwarfed in comparison. Body size was close to 1 inch. At first I thought it was a wolf spider. I jumped for joy and did my happy wolf spider dance like a little kid ready to scoop it up and hold it. It looked very weird and imposing, just didn't look right. I suspected a recluse but thought no way they get that big. I googled images of recluse for South Texas, lo and behold, an almost startling identical pic of the beast I was now facing. I worked on a farm with lots of horses and other large animals. This recluse got so large due to abundant food, or evolving to match the size of animal/venom proportion per bite. Either way, getting bit by a 3 inch recluse (very rare as most are nickel to quarter size) must be a horrible ordeal. They carry more venom and do exponential damage.

Imagine these six eyed sand spiders getting larger and larger. If there are any farms or places in Southern Africa that have large animals, I would throw out an estimate that some of those spiders had the same effect. Would not be surprised if there were some six eyed sanders with leg spans exceeding 100 mm perhaps 150 mm due to evolving with the size of animals in its habitat. Imagine getting bitten by that block busting show stopper!

Tommy C. said...

Plus nice to know their battery life exceeds a decade. Getting a few spiders that will work good without breaking for 10 or 15 years is an added bonus.

Joseph Jameson-Gould said...

Wow, terrifying! They'll be the death of us all once they evolve to burn through steel. I think that's how it works.

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