Friday, September 28, 2012

An unwelcome lunchtime guest

Be wary when you sit on a picnic bench.
And whilst that's possibly speciesist, I wouldn't want this Huntsman sharing my lunch or scuttling up a bare limb in protest at me sitting uninvited at his table.
After years of believing Huntsman spiders to be not much more than an annoyance, I've been assured recently that they are poisonous. I'm thinking of all the ones I've caught under an upturned glass with the gentle encouragement of a piece of cardboard to nudge them into the glass to be firmly evicted from the house and shaken vigorously over the fence into the neighbour's back yard with the firm words "and don't come back". And now I find they all could have bitten me. Each and every one.
Actually I knew they could bite and had thought it was what they'd recently been feasting on that was the problem in creating festering sores, not that they were actually poisonous. Out with the vacuum cleaner next time!
Our local Huntsman have an unsettling tendency to lurk in cars and creep out from behind the sun-visor, which makes driving interesting when they're playing hide-n-seek in heavy traffic. Years ago, I was taking an international colleague for a drive on a hot summer's day to see the local sights in my old grey Austin A30. We'd come to an intersection, and I was looking for a gap in the traffic, when he chattily enquired if I was frightened of spiders.
"No, not particularly, I just don't like them on me."
"Oh, mmm."
As I accelerated into the stream of traffic, out of the corner of my eye I saw a long hairy leg waving at me from behind the sun-visor. Next thing the enormous, well fed, but sprightly spider leapt from the visor onto my bare leg (remember, it was a hot summer's day and shorts were perfectly appropriate attire in the late 70's.) It paused for a moment to decide which way to run, then scuttled down my leg and under the seat.
Thankfully I'm not terrified of spiders and was able to pull over and conduct a thorough search for the offending uninvited passenger. Some people aren't so lucky, and accidents aren't unknown. It could possibly explain some of the single car accidents on country roads. If you're scared of spiders and one with a leg span of 8+ cm (around 3") runs up a sleeve or down a collar it wouldn't be surprising that you'd run off the road.
There was another time I'd pulled up at the local petrol station to fill the car and a humungous one waved a few legs tauntingly from behind the sun-visor (they really seem to like that spot). I had two small children safely strapped in, and the spider thoroughly enjoyed his romp around the car, between the children, under their seats, over head restraints, back and forth with me contorting into all sorts of unbecoming postures to try to catch him.
I tried ferreting him out with a bit of paper, but to no avail. Tried poking at him with the tip of an umbrella which seemed to irritate him - no idea why! He finally snuck out one of the open doors and headed for the safety (!) of the fuel cap. Ha!
When, flustered and dishevelled, I finally found my wallet (and checked in passing if there were any of the Huntsman's mates lurking in my bag) and went to pay, the attendant asked kindly if I'd been having trouble with a spider. Note that the sod hadn't come out to help and had been having a laugh at my expense from behind the safety of plate glass. Wimp.
After that I tucked a large can of fly spray in the car...but worried about using it if the kids were in there as it'd probably asphyxiate them too. It seems cruel and unnecessary, but having an accident would be no fun for any of us either.
In the home, Huntsman will often settle behind curtains or picture frames and come out at night to feed. It can be unpleasant to unfurl a roller curtain and have a large corpse drop out onto the floor. But what is even worse is when you pull the blinds and one drops to your feet with a mangled leg or two and contorts pitifully on the floor waving its remaining legs, twitiching in apparent agony. I'm not good at squashing them, because the body can be bloated with whatever it's been eating and it can be gooily messy. (Is gooily a word? does it matter?)
Some people keep Huntsman as pets. There was a teacher at the local school who had one in her classroom. The children learnt a lot about sharing space, tolerance, respect for other species, how not to be frightened and a range of other important life issues. To the teacher's credit, there wasn't one child in that room who was scared of spiders! All went well for months until the teacher became ill and had to take leave.
To the utter horror of the entire class, within an hour of settling in, the replacement teacher had unceremoniously splattered the spider (whose name I've unfortunately forgotten) on the wall with a broom - in front of 30 loudly protesting and protective children shrieking that this was their pet and he was due to be fed.
They were collectively outraged and despised her from that moment.
Perfectly understandable in the circumstances.


Liza said...

I remember seeing plenty of these guys in my sister's living room corners. Ugh.

jabblog said...

I don't like the way spiders scuttle but don't kill them. The children in the classroom reacted perfectly rationally - I bet the replacement teacher had problems teaching them.

sue said...

Liza, does that mean you don't have them in your part of the world? I can't imagine a life without Huntsman.

jabblog, That replacement teacher gained an unenviable reputation amongst many other children and some parents too and was never liked. She was callously indifferent to the children's sorrow. They seemed to be thinking "If she can do that to our pet, what would she do to us?"