YARNELL, AZ (ARIZONA HIGHWAYS TV) – The sounds of crickets chirps marks dinnertime at Spider Pharm. While most insects will satiate the hungry tarantulas – yes, tarantulas! – crickets seem to be their favorite meal. One cricket can feed a spider for days.
The spiders belong to Chuck and Anita Kristensen. They raise spiders and other venomous creatures. At times, the couple has as many as 75,000 spiders – all kinds, not just tarantulas -- living in their unassuming Yarnell house with them.
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"It's often hard to explain what we do and why we do it," Chuck said. "Spiders are something you need to respect."
The Kristensens raise a variety of venomous spiders, including Arizona's dreaded black widow, known to all by the red hourglass marking on her black body. While the tarantulas get crickets and other insects, the black widows are fed maggots.
"Some spiders can kill," Chuck said. "There's a lot of spiders out there that we don't know what the venoms are capable of doing, and sometimes that can cause some serious problems. It can last for years."
One of the most important things that happens at Spider Pharm is milking the spiders' venom, which is exactly what it sounds like. The process involves using carbon dioxide to knock out the spiders. While they're unconscious, Chuck places their fangs over the edge of a tube and gives them a little electric shock. That's how you safely milk venom from a tarantula.
While Chuck said he's never had a serious bite – which he defines as something that landed him in the hospital – his spiders have gotten their jaws on him.
"I've probably had, I'm guessing maybe a few thousand spider bites, scorpion stings, centipede bites, whatever. But most of them are trivial."
Spider venom is valuable – Chuck estimates it's "a few million dollars per gram" for black widow venom – because drug companies think it's the next big thing. Researchers are looking at a variety of potential uses for both spider venom and scorpion venom.
"For example, new ways or new ideas, techniques to stop atrial fibrillation -- a heart attack. Block epilepsy. Bladder control. Pain. Pain is a very big topic right now, and there's a lot of stuff that spider venoms have that can reduce pain."
The discoveries could be worth billions of dollars to pharmaceutical companies.
According to the Spider Pharm website, their "goal [is] to make more high quality venoms affordable and accessible in quantities necessary to support exploration as well as more intensive research."
The Kristensens say they don't worry much about the little killers they raise getting loose in their home. They have a crack security team comprised of common daddy longlegs, which can catch and kill black widows.
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