The Poisons Collection Volume 2: Red Backed Beasts

The poisons collection

Hello, last time on my revamp of the poisons collection I spoke about blue frogs today we’re jumping to red spiders. This may not be the best blog for any arachnophobes  particularly if you’re Australian.

Today we’re going to be looking at the highly poisonous Redback Spider.

Latrodectus hasseltii close.jpg

Female Redback Spider. Photo Credit – Toby Hudson

Fact File

COMMON NAME: Redback Spider – red-striped spider – red-spot spider – jockey spider

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Latrodectus hasseltii

TYPE: Arachnid

DIET: Carnivore – main sources of prey are insects, small lizards and other spiders

GROUP NAME: cluster or clutter


HABITAT: Widespread across Australia,  particularly common in Brisbane, Perth and Alice Springs. Often found in outside urban areas and webs are often built in sheds, outhouses and even in tyres. Webs are often in dry, dark and sheltered places.

SIZE: Females usually have a body length of about 10 millimetres (0.4 in), while the male is much smaller, being only 3–4 mm (0.12–0.16 in) long.


I will start off by saying that not all redback spider bites are venomous, if there web is disturbed they might start off by giving you a warning bit. Nevertheless if you think you’ve been bitten by a redback it is definitely best to go and get checked out.

However, venomous bites from redbacks can result in pain, swelling and redness spreading up the limb from the bite site. However 1 in 3 humans bitten will develop further symptoms called latrodectism. Symptoms typically include nausea, vomiting, abdominal or chest pain, agitation, headache, generalised sweating and hypertension. These can lead to other complications but these are rare. Nearly all the bites that end with these symptoms are from a female redback.

The majority of reported spider bites in Australia are attributed to redbacks, which are responsible for around 2,000 hospitalised bite cases each year. However, not a single death due to redback venom has been reported for 50 years, since the introduction of redback antivenom.

Photo credit: Natalie Saez

Other Facts

Males and females look quite different from each other. Males will often be smaller and have different colouring. They are normally light brown with white markings, but lack the distinctive red stripe that the females have. The red backs mating system is also rather perculiar, Natalie Saez from lifehacker put it perfectly:

During mating, not only does the female eat the male, but the male actually assists her in this process by flipping his body towards her so that he is closer to her mouthparts. Because the cannibalistic process is so slow, mating continues until the male succumbs to his injuries.

Hope you enjoyed this episode, I once had friends in Australia with these suckers living under their house!

ThatBiologist Everywhere!







The Monthly Round Up: Squirting, Studies and Superheros

The Monthly Round Up

Hello and welcome to my new monthly series. Last year I had The Monthly Species and the year before that I had The Monthly Scientist. This year I fancied doing something slightly different. I really enjoyed writing my BAM series and letting you all in on my day to day life. I wanted to bring back an element of that with this monthly series. The Monthly Round Up will be kind of like a favourites blog but with a very scientific theme and well I’ll let you read on to the rest of this blog for it to explain itself.


Favourite Science News Story Of The Month:

I am friends with a few people who are guilty of humblebragging. If you’re not familiar with what humblebragging is, it’s when someone will say something like “Oh I’m amazed at how great I am at my new job” or “Wow, I never have anything nice to wear since I lost all that weight”. A new study has revealed (what I already knew to be true) in that humblebragging is way more annoying than just regular bragging or even self-promotion! You can read more about it here.

Favourite Blog I’ve read this Month:

I guess this technically isn’t a blog but I found this piece by the Washington Post through the amazing blog Nothing In Biology Makes Sense (well worth a follow). It’s all about the carbon footprint of superheros, turns out in terms of saving the worlds environment they would definitely not be the good guys! I definitely would suggest reading this one, or at the least looking at the poster they produced! You can find it here!

Favourite Scientific Fact I’ve Learnt This Month:

This has to come from the book that I’ve been reading (listed below) and that is about the squirting cucumber or Ecballium elaterium. When its fruits are ripe they actually explode and send their seeds in a “torrent of mucilaginous goo”. It can cause the seeds to be ejected up to 7 metres away from the parent plant! Just be careful because this cucumber is poisonous! Here’s a slo-mo video of them in action!

Favourite Social Media I’ve Followed This Month:

Instagram – This one has to go to Sophie from The Scientific Beauty – She’s got a killer sense of style and a PhD. What more could you want from an insta feed. Honestly I just love her posts and her red theme, you can find her at @sciencebeaut

Twitter – This month I’ve got to give a shout out to Alex Evans. I interviewed him last year but his twitter is something else to behold. He holds a great game called Guess The Crest which I have only got right once but also has the best retweets. You can find him on twitter @alexevans91

Books I’ve Been Reading:

Bizarre Botany by Christina Harrison and Lauren Gardiner – I won’t give too much away because I will be doing a full book review soon but it’s well worth picking up and taking a look at!

Podcasts I’ve Been Listening To:

Level up human – I’ve been listening to some of the older editions of the podcast and they make me laugh, smile and think about the world. They always have really funny and interesting guests and I strongly encourage you to go and check it out!

I’d love to know your answers to these questions so please let me know in the comments or on twitter!

ThatBiologist Everywhere!





Have Yourself an Eco-Friendly Christmas!


Hello! It’s officially December and as I always take a bit of time off from blogging at the end of the year soooo that means it’s time to get christmassy! I have three posts that are all centered around christmas coming for you and today we’re talking about having an eco-friendly christmas!

Tip 1. Buy a real Christmas Tree but make it local!

Plastic trees are often made of non recyclable materials, so unless you plan to use it for a decade or more! Real trees are often purpose grown and in that time they can provide a habitat and will absorb CO2. However just pick it up from somewhere local and look for the FSC logo.


Christmas often means a whole heap of packaging! I understand that the easy option is to put all the junk in the bin but it makes such a difference if you recycle as much as you can. All of your wrapping paper should be going into the paper recycling!

Tip 3. Try and Cut Down Food Waste

Christmas is often a time for lots and lots of food. Make sure you try and make the most of every scrap of food you have. There are lots of fantastic leftover recipes out there but my personal favourite is a leftover pie! Or freeze things for a later date.

Tip 4. Get the lighting right!

My favourite thing about christmas is all the twinkly lights but not all lights are created equal. Certain lights will drain more energy which costs you more as well as the planet. Indoor LED fairy lights are a great option when decorating your home for Christmas. They don’t need much energy to run and are much more efficient than standard or even energy saving bulbs. LED lights generally don’t produce heat, making them ideal for decorating your Christmas tree and reducing the risk of fire hazard. Also utilize timers! All your Christmas lights should be on timers, from the strands adorning your trees to the lights outside. Don’t count on remembering to turn them off after a long day and plug the lights into a timer that remembers for you. Light timers can be found at any hardware store.

Tip 5. Presents!

There will be two more christmas themed posts coming up all about gift ideas for Biologists and for gifts that do good for the world. However, think about the presents that you receive and that you give. Try and keep packaging to a minimum and donate what you don’t use rather than throwing things away!

I hope you all have a wonderful christmas whatever you do!

ThatBiologist Everywhere!




The Monthly Species: November

The Monthly Species

If you weren’t aware although I am a botanist by trade I absolutely adore sharks! I ever dedicated a whole week to them last year which you can find here. I therefore had to include one on my Monthly Species list! So today we’re talking about the Bull Shark!

Image result for bull shark

Bull sharks get their name from their short, blunt snout, as well as their pugnacious disposition and a tendency to head-butt their prey before attacking. They are medium-size sharks, with thick, stout bodies and long pectoral fins. They are gray on top and white below, and the fins have dark tips, particularly on young bull sharks.

Scientific Classification:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Chondrichthyes
Order: Carcharhiniformes
Family: Carcharhinidae
Genus: Carcharhinus
Species: C. leucas

Size: 7 to 11.5 ft long with the largest verified shark being 12 foot long and they weigh between 200 to 500 lbs.

Diet: Given their fast and agile nature, Bull sharks will eat almost anything they can catch. This includes fish, dolphins and other sharks. They do not go after humans specifically however bull sharks are often in turbid waters of bays where humans are common. This combination leads to some human attacks.

Life Expectancy: 16 years in the wild
They have a gestational period of 10 to 11 months and pups are born alive. Bull sharks do not raise there young but instead will bear them in protected costal regions commonly referred to as nurseries.

Conservation: According to the IUCN Bull sharks are classed as Near Threatened on the red list. This is mainly due to the sharks being hunted for their meat and for their fins. 

The Coolest Thing Ever About This Species: There are a lot of cool things about bull sharks. They have been seen leaping up river rapids, salmon-like, to reach inland lakes. This can mean they can be found up to 2500 miles in land!! Secondly Bull sharks are among a few sharks that can survive in both saltwater as well as freshwater. They can do this because they’ve developed “super kidneys” that can remove large amounts of a salty compound called urea from the bloodstream.

ThatBiologist Everywhere!




Photography by ThatBiologist – Giverny, France – Claude Monet’s Garden – 24/10/2017


On a family holiday to Normandy we stopped in on Monet’s house. I instantly fell in love with the beautiful garden and could have spent hours taking pictures of all the beautiful plants. However, here are 12 of my favourite images:

The Science of Firework Colours


“Remember, remember, the fifth of November, The Gunpowder Treason and plot”


On this last day of ThatBiologist does Halloween we’re going to explore the science of fireworks! A long time a go I did a 6 facts in 60 seconds post on fireworks here. However today we’re going into more detail on firework colours!

Explosions have been around for a very long time and fireworks have often been used as a sign of celebration. Chinese people are believed to have made explosive rockets in the 6th century CE during the Sung dynasty (960–1279CE). The word “firework” comes from the Greek word pyrotechnics, which means “fire art” or “fire skill”. Fireworks are in essence a controlled explosion inside a missile.

The beautiful colours and styles of fireworks come from a chemical reaction. How it works is that there will be a particular metal compound and an explosion. The metal reacts with the explosion to produce a colour. Sodium compounds give yellow and orange, for example, copper and barium salts give green or blue, and calcium or strontium make red.

Here’s a very cool infographic from Compound Chem explaining that in a bit more detail:

Image result for firework chemical reaction

Make sure you stay safe this guy fawkes night as fireworks are very dangerous. This brings this years ThatBiologist Does Halloween to a close. I hope you’ve enjoyed this week of posts. Feel free to let me know your favourites with a quick tweet or in the comments below!

ThatBiologist Everywhere!




Are Ghosts Real?


I’ve written a few posts like this in past years when ThatBiologist has done Halloween! I asked whether Vampires were real, Werewolves were real and finally whether zombies were real! But today I’m asking could ghosts be real?!


Ghosts, thanks to popular culture, come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. From orbs to see through figures, ghosts come in all kinds of different shapes and sizes. Ghosts are popularly theorized to be spirits of people that have passed away. There are thousands of famous ghost stories including people seeing the ghost of Anne Boleyn. Another ghostly case was that of Freddie Jackson who was a mechanic and died in World War I. The story goes that he did not want to be left out of a photo of his squadron even after death and makes an appearance in this photo:

Freddy Jackson

However are ghosts actually real? Many claim that ghosts are the mind playing tricks on you. After all many ghost stories are set in creepy, dark and quiet places. With the right story the mind might simply see what it wants to see and hear what it wants to hear.

Ghosts became very popular in the Victorian era particularly in fiction. In this time things were changing with the industrial revolution. Lighting was often provided by gas lights, these lights emitted carbon monoxide causing more people to have hallucinations. Photography allowed for photos to become “proof” of these phenomenons when in reality these photos were faked with quite literally smoke and mirrors.

In conclusion, are ghosts real? Well who am I to give a definitive answer. Although many cases of ghosts are probably a trick of the eye or spending a little too much time by a gas light, maybe just maybe one or two stories could be true.

More ThatBiologist Does Halloween

ThatBiologist Everywhere!




Sponsor Me

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Pumpkins!


Pumpkins are synonymous with the spooky time of year! Here are five things you didn’t know about them:

Number 1: The largest pumpkin ever grown was just under 922 kilograms and was the size of a small car!

Number 2: The first jack o lanterns were not carved in pumpkins. They were carved in turnips as they were more readily available for the Celtic holiday of Samhain (where the practice comes from). It wasn’t until 1867 when jack o lanterns were carved in pumpkins!

Number 3: Pumpkins are actually a fruit!

Number 4: Every part of the pumpkin plant is edible. There are recipes for all bits of the pumpkin including the flowers and leaves. My personal favourite part of a pumpkin to eat is the seeds!

Number 5: There are about 42 different types of pumpkin that come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes!

Have you carved a pumpkin this year? Send me a picture over on my twitter!!

ThatBiologist Everywhere!




7 Weird Things That Can Kill You!


Welcome to the first post of ThatBiologist Does Halloween! An entire week dedicated to the goulish things in the world of biology. Today I’m going to jump in the deep end with 10 weird deaths.


7 – Anthrax

Anthrax is an infection caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. It can affect the lungs, skin and cause gastrointestinal infections too. It can be extremely deadly without treatment and extremely uncomfortable. Anthrax spores have been used as biological warfare in the past. However, one weird death caused by Anthrax was of US congressman Michael F. Farley in 1921 when his shaving brush was infected with Anthrax.


6 – Carrot Juice

Carrots are delicious and nutritious! Although they do not actually provide any form of night vision, they are a great source of vitamin A as well as having vitamins K and B6. However, Basil Brown used to drink a gallon of carrot juice a day in the belief it would make him healthy. In 1974 he died after warning that this behavior would cause damage to his liver and overdosing on vitamin A.

5 – Robots

Many of our every day items are produced by robots as well as almost everything we do. The first human ever to be killed by a robot goes to Robert Williams who worked in a Ford assembly line. He was hit by a robotic arm and subsequently died.

4 – Yellow Fever

Yellow fever is a viral disease and the infection is common in parts of Africa, South America, Central America and the Caribbean. In some cases the disease can be fatal but a standard infection can cause symptoms such as  mild infection with fever, headache, chills, back pain, fatigue, loss of appetite, muscle pain, nausea, and vomiting. Vomiting up blood and kidney failure are some of the more severe symptoms. It is spread by mosquito bites and the slightly weird death here is in 1900, American physician Jesse William Lazear tried to prove that Yellow Fever was transmitted by mosquitoes by letting infected mosquitoes bite him. He then contracted the disease and died proving himself right!

3 – Laughing

Some say laughter is the best medicine and most of the time it is. However there have been a few cases of death from laughter. One such case was of Alex Mitchell, he laughed at a TV programme for 25 minutes solid. He finally stopped and died from suffocation causing heart failure.

2 – Snakes

Snakes are wonderfully strange creatures and some are highly poisonous. The poisons can have all sorts of affects which can include causing organ failure leading to death. However, many snakes are very peaceful creatures and will run away first and if you see a snake it’s often better to turn and walk away too! Mack Wolford never got that message though. He was a pastor that believed Christians should handle snakes in order to show their faith in god. He however died from a rattlesnake bite in 2012. Stay away from snakes kids!

1 – Explosive powder

Explosions are dangerous I didn’t need to tell you that. We see enough evidence of it on the news. You would think then if ever you had to work with an explosive powder you would be hyper aware of its dangerous properties! Not for Vladimir Likhonos who had a habit of dropping his gum in citric acid powder to increase the sour flavor. He one day mixed up the two powers causing him to chew the explosive powder and consequently blow off his jaw!


It has amazed me some of the deaths I read researching this piece! I guess its a little reminder to always be grateful for what you have, anyway happy Halloween! See you tomorrow!

More ThatBiologist Does Halloween

ThatBiologist Everywhere!




Sponsor Me

Biology Books!


Hello, so I have something to admit, I am a secret collector of biology themed books. My dream one day is to have a bookshelf full of all of the best books in the biology world. So I thought I would share some of my favourite’s with you!

Number 1: Charles Darwin – The Origin of Species

It’s a book all biologists should read because it’s totally brilliant and I believe it’s important for us to know the history of science. However this particular version is so much more. Once upon a time, I went to the Natural History Museum with my other half for his birthday and saw this beautiful illustrated version of the book, but it is extremely large and not exactly cheap so I put the book down and walked away. A few months later for our anniversary I was presented with that very book. It really is stunningly put together and well worth a look.

9781742372181Number 2: Bill Laws – Fifty Plants That Changed The Course Of History.

I have mentioned this book before but it definitely deserves mentioning again! This was another gift and is once again a beautifully illustrated book. I love plants and botany if you didn’t know and this book highlights just how important plants have been in history. It’s a lot lighter reading than the origin of species and is easy to read just about one plant and then put away again.

Number 3: Francis Rose – The Wild Flower Key

On a slightly different note from the other two, I had to but this book for my masters degree course and ended up not using it much during my field trips but lots during my masters degree. If you are interested in trying to get to grips with plant identification this book has a lot in it. It’s got really clear keys and fantastic pictures to make identification easy!

Those are my top three that are currently in my collection but I have an ever growing wish list of books. Kew gardens has a fantastic range of books in their shop and I just want to buy all of them! One day perhaps! Until then let me know any book recommendations you have!

ThatBiologist Everywhere!