Toxicology of the Kartoolian paralt



The yellow paralt poison is among the deadliest substances, known across the Malazan Empire, and a preferred weapon for many skilled killers, the Claws being among them. Since now, it was only known that it is derived from the yellow-banded giant spiders of the island of Kartool and that it leads to an agonizing, painful death. In this study, the origin of the spider, along with the active compounds of its poison is elucidated.

Biology of the Kartoolian yellow-banded spiders

The Kartoolian yellow-banded spider is a large predator, with adult specimens reaching almost 25 cm in leg span, with a massive body and relatively short legs. The size of both sexes is comparable and cannibalism is common. The abdomen is colored in yellow and black hence the name of the spider. The web is funnel-type, usually constructed in stones cracks. Old buildings and especially defensive walls and towers are the favorite hunting ground for these spiders. The egg sac usually contains less than 100 eggs. After hatching, the youngsters immediately start to eat each other and try to escape both their brothers and the adults. They live away from the largest stone areas until reaching maturity, usually after three years.

Several aspects of their biology, however, remained controversial. First of all, the island of Kartool does not seem the perfect place for such a huge spider. Its climate is, in the most optimistic case, temperate, with cold nights, which is not beneficial to gigantism. The Earth’s largest spiders, the bird-eating spiders are restricted to the rain forests of the tropics. The large size also suggests suitable and abundant prey, which does not seem available in Kartool. On the other hand, the most venomous spiders, such as the Black Widow (Latrodectus mactans) and all of her kin are much, much smaller. The poison of the large spiders is usually weak. Finally, the specific bright coloration is characteristic for orb-web spiders to remain unseen in the background of the open vegetation and not for crawlers like the funnel-web Kartoolian spider.

The successful immigrant

A historic fact is that the yellow-banded spider was not known on Kartool before the Malazan invasion. Then, in a few decades, it spawn over the city walls and soon became the dominant predator around. Recent studies revealed, indeed, the introduced origin of the Kartoolian paralt spider. A similar, though much smaller species is common on the island of Malaz, now known as the Malazan lesser paralt spider. Unlike its Kartoolian successor, the Malazan spider is subject to significant ecological pressure, by a wide variety of other predators. It developed the strong poison and the warning yellow-black coloring to repel enemies. On Kartool it encountered no natural enemies, but at the same time, the island is a major spawning ground of several large species of moths, coming here from Quon Tali and also a stop-point for seasonal cricket migration from Korelri to Quon Tali and back. Therefore, it took not much time for the spider to become a new, much larger subspecies.

Venomous spiders in Malazan Book of the Fallen

Figure 1. Comparison of the Kartoolian paralt spider (a) and its relative, Malazan paralt spider (b). Both specimens are female.

The growing size, however, soon became a problem, because several bird species, migrating to Kartool to feed on the moths not only competed but started to enrich their menu with larger spider specimens. Therefore, the alarming coloring became even more pronounced and the poison stronger than in the Malazan species. The poison is not much different, but the Kartoolian paralt is famous because of the larger quantities, available for extraction from the larger spider.

Composition and toxicology of the yellow paralt

Despite the overall psychosis that spiders are deadly and nasty creatures, and all of them are venomous, only several tens of the over 40 000 species on Earth are dangerous to humans. Most of them belong to the widows (Latrodectus), recluse spiders (Loxosceles), or funnel-web spiders (Atrax) because only they have venom, strong enough to cause serious damage to larger organisms. Despite this, a fatal spider bite is considered rare.

The action of the yellow-banded spider’s venom is not much different from the venom of the above-mentioned species. According to the following citation, we drew several conclusions.

That poison that kept the victim alive for as long as possible, feeding his heart with everything it needed, even as vessels throughout his body burst, again and again, and again. The victim’s limbs were twisted as if someone had broken their joints, the nodes at the crotch and neck swelled until they burst, and the face was left in an unrecognizable rictus of agony. The pain alone was said to be enough to kill.”

The yellow paralt should have both a necrotic (vessels throughout his body burst) and neurotoxic (limbs were twisted) effect. The necrotic effect is administered by severe hemolysis, e.g. destruction of red blood cells and local tissue necrotizing. It is achieved by a combination of hydrolytic enzymes, primarily secreted in the venom with the purpose of food digestion outside the body of the spider. Then, it simply ingests the food fluid from the prey. The neurotoxic effect, causing the tetanic muscle contractions, followed by paralysis is achieved through peptide neurotoxins, attacking the nerve impulse transmission.

The combination of necrotic and neurotoxic activity of the venom of a single species is quite unusual, as most of the venomous spiders (or snakes etc.) are specialized in just one of the two fundamental principles of action. The swelling of nodes, however, leads to the conclusion that the yellow paralt has also strong immunogenic properties and causes an oversensitive immune response and inflammation, resulting in further complications.


  1. Steven Erikson. 2000. Deadhouse Gates, A Tale of Malazan Book of the Fallen. Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-81311-0.

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