Saturday, 24 July 2010
I am not the biggest fan of spiders. I have quite a bad case of arachnophobia, to the extent that even small spiders make me uncomfortable. I found this Huntsman spider whilst clearing the unused pots in the garden and this fella gave me quite a scare because it's fairly large. I've seen Huntsman spiders around the house before, mostly under furniture or just crawling about. In fact, they're quite common with older houses and estates, particularly black and whites. I tried to overcome my fear by focusing my attention on taking good macro shots of it. Needless to say, this required that I get fairly close to the subject. Still, I tried not to think about it. Thankfully, the spider kept very still, which enabled me to take multiple-shots from different angles. No tripod was used as light was sufficient, plus I didn't want to risk having the spider escape whilst I was setting up.
Huntsman spiders ( Sparassidae ), formerly Heteropodidae) is a family of spiders also known as the giant crab spiders, due to their appearance. Larger specimens of these spiders are also sometimes referred to as wood spiders, due to their preference for inhabiting woody places, including wooden furniture.
These eight-eyed spiders are quite widespread and can be found in countries which have tropical and semi-tropical climates such as Australia, South East Asia and Africa. While frequently very large, these spiders are relatively harmless to humans. Although they can bite if provoked, the victim will usually only suffer minor swelling and localized pain, and will recover in a day or two. Huntsman spiders can generally be identified by their legs, which, rather than being jointed vertically relative to the body, are twisted such that the legs extend forward in a crab-like fashion.
Many huntsman spiders are dull shades of brown or grey. Their legs are covered with fairly prominent spines, but the rest of their bodies appear smooth. The Banded Huntsman (Holconia) is larger and grey to brown with striped bands on its legs. The Badge Huntsman (Neosparassus) is larger still, and brown and hairy. Its bite will inflict the worst injury, and local swelling and pain may cause nausea, headache, vomiting and heart palpitations. The tropical or Brown Huntsman (Heteropoda) (pictured here) is also large and hairy, with mottled brown, white and black markings. The eyesight of these spiders is not nearly as good as that of the Salticidae (jumping spiders). Nevertheless, their vision is quite sufficient to detect approaching humans or other large animals from some distance.
As adults, huntsman spiders do not build webs, but hunt and forage for food, mainly during the night. Their diet consists primarily of insects and other invertebrates, and occasionally small skinks and geckos. They live in the crevices of tree bark, but will frequently wander into homes and vehicles. They are able to travel extremely fast, often using a springing jump while running, and walk on walls and even on ceilings. They also tend to exhibit a "cling" reflex if picked up, making them difficult to shake off and much more likely to bite. The females are fierce defenders of their egg sacs and young. They will generally make a threat display if provoked, but if the warning is ignored they may attack and bite.
Despite their appearance, Huntsman spiders are generally not regarded as dangerous, and can be considered beneficial because they feed on insects (cockroaches are a favourite). Still, I would rather kill the cockroaches myself, than to have these spiders surprise me by lurking in some corner.