What if a Radioactive Spider Bites You?


– We all know what
happened to Peter Parker but what would really happen to you if you were bitten by
a radioactive spider. Let’s get technical. (suspenseful instrumental music) The origin of Spider-Man starts all the way back in 1962 in the
panels of Amazing Fantasy 15 and in those panels
scientists are demonstrating to Peter Parker and his
class their amazing control over so called radioactive rays. The scientists throw the
switch on their machine but at the exact same
time, an unfortunate spider dangles down from the ceiling and absorbs a fantastic
amount of radiation. The spider then totally stressed out and in its death throes,
then Peter who then more or less immediately
gains superpowers. The origin story of spider
man has changed over the years but what would happen to you if you were in this same original situation? First, those 50 year old panels
got something exactly right. Spiders do not want to bite us. Whether it’s our evolution or our culture, we have a habit of blaming spiders, we think that they bite us all the time. Any unexplained bump or rash
has to be a spider’s fault. We just assume. But from spider statistics and behavior, we can say definitively, it’s
almost never a spider bite no matter what you think it is. For example, it’s always fun to joke that everything including
spiders in Australia want to kill you right? Oh g’day, got bit by a spider. But just guess how many people
have died from spider bites like that from the very
venomous funnel web spider in the last, let’s make
it interesting, 40 years, just guess for a second, I can tell you. It’s one. Contrast this tiny number with the number of people in the US alone each
year that are bitten by dogs, and suddenly spiders
don’t seem quite as nasty. Come here, come here you little spider. Come here, eh, get over here. Come here little spider. This isn’t to say that
spiders don’t bite people, they definitely do. It’s just that we seem to think
because of our spider bias that spider bites are much more common and much more dangerous
than they actually are. For example, most people are afraid of the brown recluse and Black Widow. No the more alive Black Widow. There we go. However, mostly thanks to
the development of antivenom, there have been almost
zero deaths combined between these two spiders
in the last few decades. In the United States,
there hasn’t been a death by Black Widow since 1983 if
you don’t include endgame. Not only are potentially
dangerous spiders rarely deadly, we are terrible and
identifying spider bites in the first place. For example, in a resent
study in Southern California which does have black widow spiders, out of 200 people who came in saying they definitely got bit by a spider, less than 4% of them
actually got bit by a spider. And this is consistent
across the literature. The vast majority of the time
we mistakenly blame spiders, it’s hard to even get statistics like this because of misreporting
and misremembering. Our inherent spider bias, it’s fine. It’s really fine. They’re they’re mostly fine. There you go. Adding to all of this, yes,
most spiders are venomous, but almost none of them can
physically bite into us, even if they wanted to. We have identified around 40,000 species of spider worldwide. Out of all these species how many of them do you think can both bite us, and have venom that is dangerous to us? Well, maybe you can sense a theme here, but it’s literally like 12. 12! Spider biters. The fact is most spiders on Earth do not have venom that is dangerous to us. And most spiders on Earth
do not have the chelicerae or pointing fangy mouth bits that are capable to deliver
that venom into our bodies. The Daddy Long Legs is
probably the biggest victim of this kind of misconception. They aren’t venomous in
the way they would harm us. They do not have fangs that
are big enough to make it into our skin and
they’re not even spiders, and yet we treat them like
they’re secretly super deadly. We need to get over our spider bias. Now go! Go hang on the bedroom
ceilings and wait to jump on their faces when they’re sleeping. It’s fine, they’re not even spiders. Spider-Man’s comic origins got it right. Spiders really do only bite
us in extreme situations. So let’s just say that against all odds a radioactive spider does bite you. What happens next? In the original comic
panels the infamous spider becomes radioactive when it accidentally finds itself in the firing
line of radioactive rays. Studies do show that
insects and arachnids can handle a lot more radiation than you or I could before dying. Somewhere between 30 and 1500 grays which is an increase of 10 to 500 times over what we can handle. So maybe a spider could absorb a fantastic amount of radiation. The question no one ever asked
of this scenario, though, is how does this spider
actually become radioactive? Now I know the scientist
in the original comic said radioactive rays. But what if I was just
fancy 60s comic speak for a beam of neutrons and I suggest this because neutron bombardment is the only common way
for otherwise normal stuff to become radioactive stuff. It’s called neutron activation. Very basically, neutron activation is the act of shoving neutrons into an otherwise stable atomic nucleus. This makes the nucleus
bigger and unstable. It wants to return to stability. So in order to do so
it throws off particles and radiation to get back
down to its unexcited state. It’s kind of like the
guy that you drive behind on the highway who tried
to stuff too much stuff in his trunk didn’t
secure all of it properly instead of just taking like two
seconds to secure all of it. Now he’s putting your
life in danger cause parts of it are falling down onto the highway and maybe breaking your windshield, and you don’t wanna stop
and pull over and call AAA, and you’re late to the dentist already. Sorry, all normal material can be neutron activated,
even spider material. You can in theory make
a spider radioactive through neutron activation. However, it’s not exposure
to the spider itself that changes Peter’s nerd bod. It is exposure to the spiders venom. And so the maximum dose of
radiation you could receive, or Peter, depends on
exactly how much venom a spider can inject into you. Take the Black Widow again,
it has dangerous venom, but not very much. The average bite from a Black Widow only imparts two hundreds
of a single milligram worth venom into its victim. Just a few sand grains worth of mass. So now let’s get technical. Let’s say our spider has a
black widow’s amount of venom and after it is irradiated,
that venom is somehow through maybe neutron activation, as radioactive is
something like plutonium, this is ridiculous as an assumption, but let’s say it happens anyway because this amount is so small, it has to be really radioactive or else nothing’s going to happen. Now the spider bites you
and you have 20 micrograms of radioactive venom coursing
through your bloodstream emitting alpha particles that is smashing into cellular structures
inside of your cells and punching holes in your DNA. If the venom stayed in your
bloodstream after a week you would have absorbed
the same full body dose that you’d want to absorb over
20 years in just one week. And after a month, you
start to notice some changes in your blood cell count
because now you have non-fatal but still totally really bad radiation sickness, yay. The reality is if a truly
radioactive spider bit you it either wouldn’t be radioactive enough to do anything to your body or it would be so radioactive
that just a tiny amount of its venom would start
taking a bone saw to your DNA. Oh yeah. And broken DNA doesn’t
give you superpowers. It gives you cancer. This is why later
interpretations of Spider-Man’s origin story leaned into a
genetically engineered spider with genetically engineering venom. And I know I may have just
not your hopes and dreams of being Spider-Man off of a tall bridge and you tried to save it
with a web but you couldn’t so maybe let’s take this question
in a different direction. What if you were bitten by the most radioactive spider in the world. If a radioactive spider had
the most radioactive venom it would become literally the
most toxic animal on Earth. When we say something is radioactive, like this ominous hunk of metal here, what do we actually mean? Well, you’ve probably
heard of half life, right? It’s the amount of time
it takes for half of a radioactive material to decay away. And if we know this amount of time and how many atoms are
in this hunk of metal, we can calculate how many
of those nuclear decay events happen every second, and the more that happened per second the more radioactive
something is, makes sense. For example, let’s say
that this hunk of metal is actually radium-226, an isotope radium. It would make this metal one of the most radioactive substances on Earth. If we had a kilogram of
radium-226 right here it would be throwing out
36 trillion particles every single second, and because these particles
carry ionizing energy, it is very dangerous to
stand right next to it. but it’s not the most dangerous. This is just a few
milligrams of polonium-210. It was discovered in
named after Poland in 1898 by Marie and Pierre Curie. It was the first element to be discovered by its extreme radioactivity alone. Here I have just a few milligrams of it, just a snowflake’s worth of mass and it still literally glows blue in air because the particles it’s
throwing off as a decays are ionizing the air around it. Polonium-210 isn’t the
most radioactive substance that we know of, but it
might be one of the scariest because the particles it’s throwing off carry very high energies. Those particles don’t travel
very far in air though, so you can stand about
this far away from it and you’d be fine. But if this got into your body, you’d now be in contact
with one of the most toxic substances on Earth. So let’s put it in our spider’s venom. The most radioactive spider on Earth is about to bite us during our field trip and inject us with a Black Widow’s worth of polonium-210 in liquid form. Wait for, math first, you know that. Spider-Man. We know the radioactivity of polonium-210. We know how much mass is going
to be in your bloodstream from the bite, and we know how much energy each one of those decaying particles will have and impart to your body. We are going to consider
what this does to you over the course of a day if
you have spider man’s mass. If you were bit by the
most radioactive spider after just a day you would absorb an entire body dose of three grays. You would feel nauseous, confused, you would start throwing up and, and then you, you lose all your hair. God. A week after being bitten by the spider you would have absorbed
a total of 23 grays, you’re going into shock, you’re
in and out of consciousness, your organs are failing. For context, the 100% lethal dose even with medical treatment
starts at eight grays. You are not waking up
with nerd abs after this. If our spider’s venom was as
radioactive as polonium-210, the amount of venom he would
need to inject into you to do something to your body in the form of definitely killing you would
be just a single microgram, less than a third the mass
of a single grain of sand. Polonium-210 is so
radioactive that it doesn’t really have any uses outside
of just being radioactive as a source of radiation
for heating up space probes in space with radioactivity
and being used as a, as a very potent poison. I guess though, it wouldn’t
put the venom in venom. So what would really happen to you if you were bitten by
a radioactive spider? Well, the comics got a lot right. You can in theory making
spider radioactive. Spiders only bite people
in extreme situations. And if a radioactive spider bit you, it could in theory do
something to your body, however, that something could
either be almost nothing, or so much that instead
of wall climbing powers and shooting webs out and stuff, you have the powers of
nausea and organ failure. Honestly, the most unbelievable part of Spider-Man’s origin story isn’t that radioactivity did
something to Peter Parker, it’s that a spider jumped to his hand and bit him in the first place. Because Science. To me, my spiders, all of you, yes. To their basements we go to
lie and wait in the dark. (upbeat electronic music) Neutron activation can
be a serious concern, especially if you’re working around things that emit radiation and emit neutrons, it can make things like
your workspace radioactive, I actually got this sticker which says caution radioactive material
potentially activated. I got this at a national laser lab, because what they do
there can actually emit neutrons into the surrounding environment and activate material so
they build most of the lab out of concrete and not steel, because steel can become
activated by these neutrons and then it can become radioactive and therefore workplace hazard and I have it on this mug because it’s probably not radioactive. Thank you so much for watching Dakota. If you want more of me
and Because Science, you can follow us on the
social media handles here and hey, you can suggest
ideas for future episodes. Sometimes I use them but often I do not and if you wanna check out
any of our other series that we’re doing, like the
Science of Mortal Combat, or Because Space, please go back to the
Because Science channel and check those out too. (upbeat jingle)

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