Strange smiles and stranger boyfriends
My boyfriend has a funnel web spider and a death stalker scorpion. He yells at
me when I mess with their tanks. He says they can kill us if I let them out. I
think he is just scared I'll kill them. Which is it? Can they can kill us or us
them? (Sara, Louisville, Kentucky)
A: They can kill you. Most scorpions and spiders are harmless
to humans. But not these.
(Top) A couple of deadly death stalker scorpions from Egypt
[Eric Ythier © Copyright, used with permission]
(Bottom) A lethal Sydney funnel web spider [Eric Smith,
California Academy of Sciences]
The death stalker scorpion (Leiurus quinquestriatus) ó
the most toxic of all scorpions ó can flail his tail, sting it into flesh, and
inject venom. The poison, by attacking nerves, can cause extreme pain,
convulsions, paralysis, heart failure, inability to breathe, and death. This
3-inch (8 cm) long tan beauty lives in North Africa and the Middle East.
By the way, scorpions kill twice as many people as poisonous
The male Sydney funnel web spider (Atrax robustus) ó
the deadliest of all spiders ó can bite a human and inject venom that is
extraordinarily toxic to primates (including us) but not to other animals. A
person can die in 15 minutes.
"Interestingly, the female Sydney funnel web spider is not a
threat to primates because her venom lacks the potent neurotoxin, called
Robustoxin, that is present in the males," says
Jones, entomology professor at Ohio State University.
This 2-inch long (5 cm), black-bellied spider lives in eastern
Australia within a hundred-mile (160 km) radius of Sydney.
People mostly run into the male spider as he searches for a
female, the beginning of a dangerous ó for the male ó game. Males follow an
elusive pheromone path, along silk trip-lines, inward to find the femaleís
hidden burrow. During mating, the male holds the female with spurs on his second
legs so she wonít strike. Given half a chance, though, she sinks toxic fangs
into her mate, kills him, and sucks nourishment from his body to get protein for
If one bites you, stop the poison from spreading and get
medical help fast.
First aid instructions.
Unfortunately, the FDA hasnít approved use of the Australian
anti-venom, so it isnít readily available in the United States, says
Kirk Cumpston, Medical Director of the New Mexico Poison Center. If bitten,
call the poison control center for help at 1-800-222-1222. They might be able to
locate a local anti-venom source (the zoo, perhaps).
"These animals should not be kept as pets by ordinary people
because of the potential danger from their venoms," warns
Jan Ove Rein of the Norwegian University of Science & Technology.
On the other hand, your funnel web spider may not be the
Sydney funnel web. "Many are not dangerous to humans," says Jones.
Ohio State University:
Spiders in and around the house by Susan Jones
Scorpion Fauna by Eric Ythier
American Association of Poison Control Centers:
Find your poison
The Scorpion Files by Jan Rein:
The death stalker scorpion
Australian Museum Online:
Funnel-web spider fact sheet
Do you use more muscles to frown or smile? (Micah, Goodlettsville,
A: It takes one more muscle to smile than to frown, according
to plastic surgeon David H. Song, MD, FACS, assistant professor at the
University of Chicago Hospitals.
Smiling takes one more muscle. [The Comedy Tragedy Mask
Newspapers around the globe assure us, "Frowning takes more
muscles than smiling," 13 to smile, 33 to frown Ė The Washington Post. 10
to smile, 100 to frown Ė The New York Times, 4 to smile, 64 to frown Ė
The Hindu. An urban myth?
Only Cecilís "The Straight Dope" got an expert (Dr. Song) to
go through the motions. A genuine smile takes two muscles to crinkle the eyes,
two to pull up the lip corners and nose, two to elevate the mouth angle, and two
to pull the mouth corners sideways. Total smile:
On the other hand, a frown needs two muscles to pull down the
lips and wrinkles in the lower face, three to furrow the brow, one to purse the
lips, one to depress the lower lip, and two to pull the mouth corners down.
Total frown: 11.
A fake smile, however, only takes two muscles. We detect the
fake because "the eyes arenít smiling."
The Straight Dope:
Smiling and frowning muscles
Urban Legends Reference Pages:
only grin deep
(Answered May 13, 2005)