Installment 15 of a series on case analysis
© Will Taylor, MD 2001 (bio)
Families of Remedies
Tracking Down More Spiders
Other animal remedies gave me an even better chase, notably a few more of the spiders.
Tarentula cubensis is described by MacFarion, its prover, as:
"...found in Cuba and Mexico. It belongs to the same family
as the Tarantula hispana."
Clarke records it as:
"Mygale cubensis. Aranea peluda. Cuban Tarantula."
Lippe describes it as a:
"...large, dark-brown and hairy spider of Cuba."
According to Hering's collaborators,
"The Mygale Cubanensis, which may be called the Cuban Tarantula, also found in South Carolina and Texas, is a larger spider of a dark-brown color, not so poisonous, and covered with more hairs than the Tarantula hispanica. Dr. Howard had some specimens sent from Cuba..."
These descriptions indicate that it is not of the same family as Tarantula hispanica (the Lycosidae, or wolf-spiders), but rather is a new-world Tarentula, a Mygalomorph.
My research identified 21 species of tropical tarantulas in Cuba, none having borne the names used for this spider in our literature. We have no better description of our "Tarentula cubensis" in our literature - which is compounded by the fact that when MacFarion saw this spider, it was macerated and partially decomposed. (Mathur tells this story in his Systematic Materia Medica:
"The Tarentula cubensis was being shipped into this country (USA) in a container with alcohol to preserve it. The container broke on the way up, the alcohol ran out, and the specimen decomposed.")
Mygale lasiodora is described as another Cuban tarantula, yet its identification is even more problematic. Mygale was introduced to our practice by John Houard, and described only as "a large black Cuban spider". The two "provings" recorded in Allen as Mygale are both the results of accidental bites; one is recorded as "Mygale lassiodora" and the other as "Mygale avicularia."
Even a brief review reveals very different symptom complexes in these two "provers," leading one to question the identity of the two spiders involved. Compounding this, Hering's collaborators refer to "Tarentula cubensis" as being the spider introduced by "Howard" - yet Howard's introduction was our "Mygale".
About all we can really say about these spiders, is that they represent 2 (perhaps 3?) of the approximately 21 Cuban theraphosid mygalomorphs, or tropical tarantulas (caranguejeiras); most likely of the genus Phormictopus, Citharacantus, Avicularia, or perhaps Cyrtopholis or Holothele. And that Tarentula cubensis needs also to be placed as well in a small "family" of "decaying animal tissue" remedies, along with Pyrogenum.
The Ambush Spider
" Aranea scinencia" was one of the most entertaining remedies to research. The best description offered in our literature is from the prover, Wm.Rowley, "A gray spider found on old walls in Kentucky. It does not spin a web; it employs a springing lunge to take its prey." A search of the arachnology literature for Aranea scinencia failed to bring this up as a described specie, either current or historical; which was not surprising, as the genus Aranea is known for its classical orb webs.
To track this critter down, after becoming increasingly frustrated with my text- and internet-based research sources, I subscribed to an Internet discussion group of museum curators and university arachnology specialists. It was an incredible ride. After posting my brief description of our spider with a query for possible identification, I sat back to a flurry of postings of suggestions followed by crossfire of professional insults - reminiscent of a Gary Larson cartoon!
I finally received an apparently sane post from the curator of arachnids at the University of Kentucky Museum of Natural History.
He suggested that a spider, found on old walls and building foundations, that does not spin a web, but rather ambushes its prey, would most likely be a member of the family Salticidae, the jumping spiders.
Perusal of an old arachnology text revealed a small grayish spider of this family currently named Salticus scenicus, a native of Kentucky.
The snakes were much easier to work with, thanks largely to the EMB Reptile Database. In addition to providing taxonomic classifications, this site lists historical records of Latin names that have been applied to given specie over time.
Meaningful Animal Families
The animal kingdom has not been investigated nearly as thoroughly or systematically for medicinal substances as has the plant kingdom. Most of the higher levels of the taxonomic hierarchy have only one or a few representatives, and in only a few instances - specifically, for the snakes and spiders - is it useful to break things down to the level of the zoologic family.
I have introduced lower levels of the taxonomic hierarchy only where this provides useful discrimination between remedies; e.g., the Ophidia (snakes) of the Reptilia are broken down to the family level, while the Aves (birds) are left as a non-subdivided group. This avoids "hierarchical level clutter" while allowing finer discriminations where these are truly useful.
Next: The Minerals