Monday, February 20, 2012

Origin of the Tarantula

Hey ya'll!

So a new term has just begun and the clock has officially started ticking, counting down the seconds to the moment when I have to begin sending in my PhD proposals and coming up with other boring things like budgets and timelines.  What is interesting right now, however, is the conception of various ideas and concepts which can constitute my PhD research topic. As it is, I have had the idea to combine my love for widlife with my degree in anthropology and write something on cultural perceptions of local wildlife. But I won't go into too much detail with that ( you can read it, if you like if and when it becomes a publication!). Instead, let me share with you an interesting little tidbit I learnt today regarding the conception of the term "Tarantula".

While it has come to represent a large number of large, hairy spiders, the term "Tarantula" was originally given to an entirely different species of arachnid. Native to the Southern Italian town of Taranto, this comparatively small spider (supposedly measuring about one inch in length) was greatly feared for its supposedly fearsome bite which would result in a form of envenomation called Tarrantism. Indeed, it seemed that during the Middle Ages the only cure to being bitten by one of these arachnids was to dance around violently and continuously, until eventually the patient collapsed from exhaustion. Only then, would the potent effects of the spider's venom be nullified. Consequently a very vigorous dance which was also popular in the region would eventually come to be known as the tarantella and was evolved from this sort of therapy. That being said, it was extremely common for musicians to travel the countryside in those days, ever ready to assist in a cure should the need arise. Though much smaller than its current counterpart, this "original tarantula" was still undoubtedly one of the larger spiders to be found in the European continent. As such, when the bigger, hairier spiders were eventually discovered in the New World, they were also given the same name, Tarantula, with many of its early discoverers mistaking it for an older and larger variant of the local species. And there you have it, the origin of the term Tarantula.

Chilean rose Tarantula

Ps. though the term is now traced to the Spanish wolf-spider Lycosa tarentula, the original spider of whose fearsome bite inspired such tails is believed to be the infamous black widow. While tarantulas (and to varying degrees wolf spiders) can, and do bite, their venom is hardly fatal to humans. Spiders of the letrodectus genus, however, have bites that are potent enough to cause intense pain and spasms which, if reached the heart, can cause death. Dancing vigorously was believed to be effective in some cases as it elavated body temperatures and dispersed the venom before it can have any severe effects.


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