The thing on the ceiling

Luckily for me, any spider phobia was nipped in the bud at an early age by my Dad. He used to laugh (not unkindly) when a small me confessed to being frightened to go to the outside toilet when the family were at our beach holiday shack. It was a classic Australian ‘dunny’ – wrought iron, blazing hot in summer, freezing in winter, a long-drop type with seat over a hole that Dad added lime to occasionally. When it filled up, he’d just knock fill  up the hole, dismantle the ‘building’, dig a new hole and re-erect the iron sheets. He was a plumber by trade and knew how to do these things, but most of the men who had shacks with their families on the beachfront in Australia (the ones that are left are still iconic Australian architecture) would have just done it themselves. Simple to construct and fairly ecologically sound for 10 shacks on the foreshore with no running water or electricity. Now those holiday villages have expanded and MacMansions, septic tanks, electricity and even running water are in evidence. Ah, progress!

But I digress. Dad explained that, of course, the spider was going to act big and aggressive – my sudden appearance, a huge tall thing many, many times its size, had scared the wits out of it and it would do all it could to scare me off. All it was doing was trying to get a feed at night, its normal time of activity.

The big hairy ‘tarantulas’ (triantiwantigontelopes, according to Dad, and if I ever get to describe a new species, that’s what I’m going to call it) are actually huntsmen. One of the largest is  giant grey huntsman (Holconia immanis) – this one was as big as my outstretched hand.

Huntsman, possibly Holconia immanis

Huntsmen are flat and scuttly, allowing them to hide in long thin gaps and chase their prey quickly. These same attributes can cause fear and even phobias in people. The one above, on my ceiling, is not the same species as the ones I encountered as a kid in South Australia.

There are over 90 species of huntsmen and they are mostly harmless. They will bite only if severely provoked, and the bite is very painful but not harmful, apparently. They live under bark in the wild, and also in man-made structures (houses, sheds), eating beetles and cockroaches and such, which is why they are welcome in my insecticide-free house.

Earning her keep in the kitchen sink

Yum - crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside

There’s an occasional startling moment when you turn over a calendar page, and there she is! Phew, only a huntsman!

Note the eight eyes in two rows

Below is a huntsman of a different species that likes to hang out in our house …

Probably Heteropoda cervina, on the bathroom wall at night

And, just because I have the photo, here’s the burrow of a trapdoor spider.

Trapdoor spider burrows

These are outdoor spiders. As the name implies, they build a silk-lined burrow with a silky, hinged lid. When the door is closed, it’s very camouflaged on the forest floor. The trapdoor spider lives in the burrow, and leaps out to capture, drag in and eat crickets, moths, grasshoppers, beetles and so forth that wander past. Trapdoors are not harmful to humans, except for a painful bite if provoked.

But not all trapdoor spiders actually do build a trapdoor. Below is the Sydney brown trapdoor (Misgolas rapax), which builds a burrow without a lid.

Sydney brown trapdoor spider; photo by Johan C.G. Fagerholm, Wikimedia Commons

I’m grateful that I learned understanding, not excessive fear, of these animals – thanks, Dad!

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2 Responses to The thing on the ceiling

  1. Rebecca says:

    GAH! Huntsmen! I am generally not a bit afraid of spiders, but I have to admit that my encounters with huntsmen during my time in Australia were deeply unsettling. I know they’re harmless, but they’re just so big and fast! They’re definitely very cool, though, regardless.

  2. joan knapp says:

    My Dad grew up in Kaimkillenbun in Queensland. I remember a visit to the school many – we won’t discuss how many – years ago. He took me over to a corner of the schoolyard specifically to show me area area riddled with trapdoor spider burrows with their little trapdoors open. Apparently, when he attended they school, the kids would spend their lunch breaks teasing the spiders. We didn’t see any spiders but I’ve never forgotten the sight of the neat little open trapdoors.

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