Cheryl Hayashi studies spiders for a living. Here’s what her job is like.
Cheryl Hayashi once had a job feeding spiders in a walk-in chamber that was full of them.
But that didn’t freak her out. It fascinated her.
“I found them beautiful and intriguing,” she says.
Hayashi has devoted her career to the 8-legged crawlers and the various silks they spin. Officially, she’s a spider silk biologist and a curator, professor and director of comparative biology research at the American Museum of Natural History. But sometimes people call her Spider Woman.
These days, the Hawaii native cares for a group of about 20 female orb-weavers and cobweb-weavers in a lab at the museum. She monitors the spiders, checking each morning to see who made an egg sac and who made a web. A couple times a week, she hand-feeds them crickets to make sure they all eat.
On silk collection days, she anesthetizes spiders and manually draws silk from their backsides – a spider’s “business end,” as she calls it. On dissection days, she will euthanize a spider and dissect out its silk glands for genetic analysis.
Her work gives her insight into the makeup of the different silks spiders use for tasks from web building to prey wrapping. And the research has numerous applications outside the lab: A synthetic material made to be similarly lightweight and strong could be useful in fields like biomedicine and the auto industry.
“This whole universe of the genetic diversity of silks and their genes has just absolutely captivated me,” she says.
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