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Emily Singer

A View from Emily Singer

MRI Reveals Tarantula's Double Beating Heart

Studying live animals via MRI can shed new light on their biology.

  • July 1, 2011

By putting a live tarantula into a special MRI scanner designed for rodents and other small animals, researchers discovered that the spider appears to have a unique heart beat.

An MRI image of a tarantula colored to highlight the heart in the posterior part of the body. Credit: Gavin Merrifield

“In the videos you can see the blood flowing through the heart and tantalisingly it looks as though there might be ‘double beating’ occurring, a distinct type of contraction which has never been considered before. This shows the extra value of using a non-invasive technique like MRI,” said researcher Gavin Merrifield, in a press release from the Society for Experimental Biology. Merrifield presented the research today at the society’s annual conference in Glasgow.

Researchers say that using this technology to study live animals could bring greater insight into their physiology and behavior. “One potential practical use of this research is to ascertain the chemical composition of spider venom,” says Mr. Merrifield. “Venom has applications in agriculture as a potential natural pesticide. On the more academic side of things if we can link MRI brain scans with a spider’s behavior, and combine this with similar data from vertebrates, we may clarify how intelligence evolved.”

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