There aren’t many students on Harding’s campus who could tolerate catching hundreds of spiders at 1:00 a.m., according to Dr. Ryan Stork, assistant professor of biology. This is why he said he was happy to find senior biology major Sara Wilmsen, who was willing to spend her summer working on a research project about spider venom.
“At this point, they’re cute to me,” Wilmsen said. “I guess staring at them under a microscope for a while gives you a new perspective on things.”
At the beginning of the summer, Wilmsen and Stork spent many late nights catching spiders at Berryhill Park, Stork said. Over the course of the summer, they caught approximately 800 spiders, catching 100-150 spiders per trip.
“(They’re) relatively easy to catch, except they like to hang out in thorn bushes and places like that, so sometimes it’s more exciting,” Stork said.
The purpose of Stork and Wilmsen’s project was to evaluate if the rabid wolf spider needs venom in order to catch prey. To test their hypothesis, Stork and Wilmsen divided the spiders they caught into two groups and put superglue on the fangs of one of the group. After Stork and Wilmsen fed them, they learned that the venom is not necessary to capture the prey that they were fed.
Stork said one of the goals of the project is to build background information that graduate students can use to answer further questions about spiders, because there are gaps in information pertaining to questions like these.
“This is a descriptive project,” Stork said. “With spiders, there aren’t a lot of answers for simple questions like this.”
Although spiders are not something that Wilmsen is passionate about, she said it has focused her on what she wants to do.
“I think I will work with them in the future, but I’m interested in a broader spectrum – venom physiology, it’s affect on what it’s being injected into and what it’s composed of,” she said.
Wilmsen said she plans to attend graduate school next year, then continue on to get her Ph.D. Ultimately, she said she wants to do research with venomous creatures and snakes. In the mean time, Stork said he will be searching for a new student to continue on in Wilmsen’s place.