Along Came A Human

I dropped a massive expletive, from my mouth, and clawed at my face yet again. This was just another one of those days where I was trying to backpedal madly, without a bike, and without success.

Let me tell you – this story is brought to you by the original stick ’em up gang. There is no web of intrigue. Literally, this story is about the reality of gatecrashing somebody’s home.

So hang around because this story has a lot of legs. Anyway, as you consider groaning, spare a thought for the following small anecdote. Scientists suggest that a person will consume, though accidentally, about 30 small spiders in a lifetime. Human lifetime, because presumably said morsel of a spider had their lifetime considerably shortened.

Well, yours truly probably had double lifetime value in THAT takeaway restaurant in slightly less than an hour. Unintentionally, of course, just a few courses in a few minutes. Definitely not a degustation, because there was no alcohol, only me whining every time I mistakenly crashed through yet another arachnoid’s architectural abode.

Not to worry, if one spider speciesĀ  s NOT ‘to your taste’, there are at least 1999 others available, just in Australia.

A man of the bush I may be, though not truly a jungle man. The secret is out. Snakes don’t bother me so much, yet going back to my childhood days of running through the forest, my one and only terror was face-planting a spider’s web. Admittedly, the Golden Orb Weaver makes an amazing goldish yellow web, probably the stickiest web I have ever had the misfortune to kiss. It’s also made by a bloody big spider, so the fear factor was enormous.

Somewhere around 2010, I decided that my fears needed to be allayed, and set about learning all things Arachnid. Did you know there are 2 groups of spiders? Ancient, and modern. Big differences, too.

The original group of spiders are the Ancients, as these rely almost solely on poison the immobilise their prey. Their fangs are downward pointing, allowing them to strike quickly and pin their prey, with incredible force and speed, to the ground. Probably the most well-known of these are Trapdoor spiders, Huntsman and Funnel-web spiders.

According to internet research, Huntsman spiders can travel almost 1 metre in 1 second, and perform mid-run acrobatic cartwheels and backflips. Maybe it’s a high-speed tripping problem associated with an excess of legs. Either way, good luck in outrunning a trippy spider. Oh yes, there is apparently a Giant Green Huntsman in Australia, with a legspan greater than a dinner plate, or 30cm.

Funnel-web spiders come in 40 different species. Some live in trees in Queensland. Perhaps they take up the northern slack due to a lack of drop bears. Why are Funnel-web spiders so deadly? It seems that their venom has around 212 toxins, though only 1 of those is lethal to humans. This spider has its poison chalice set up to kill everything it hits. Except, strangely, domestic dogs and cats, who remain largely unaffected by such bites. (Maybe a cat just trades away one of its 9 lives, though dogs are probably just super lucky). Thankfully, there has been an antidote for humans for the past 40 years. You may not die, though you could expect to be still hospitalised for 14 days.

The Modern group of spiders have lower toxicity to their venom, and primarily use webs to catch and immobilise their prey. Once caught, an insect will struggle as it is entangled in a web, sending vibrations to the spider, which may be hidden at the side of the web. The spider rushes to the caught prey, and bites it to slow it down, then generally wraps it in a web cocoon. The toxins essentially dissolve the internals of the insect. Later, the insect will be sucked of its juices, leaving a husk behind. No doubt you have seen such web decorations.

Due to being suspended in mid air, these Modern spiders cannot pin their prey down, so their pincer fangs are inward facing, that is, towards each other. There have been no recorded human fatalities due to bites from such web dwelling spiders, and it is uncertain if any, or how many, people have choked to death from accidentally inhaling or eating a spider that they walked into.

Despite all the literature, I still struggle with having a spider’s web wrapped around my head and face, particularly one still occupied with a rather fat 8 legged specimen that has made such a web. Traditionally, the larger spiders are females, and some males are quite diminutive in size. Although they are not to my taste, I understand that female spiders often consider their male counterparts quite edible. Hence, the origins of the name black widow. Yet, it has been reported that some male spiders successfully avoid being devoured during or after copulation. These smart males wait until the female is distracted or occupied with eating, then race in and copulate with her. That is one ballsy tactic. Seems there are some very brave f+#@ing spiders out there!

Another interesting fact is that the Australian Redback spider is related to the Black Widow spider. Yes, the Australian one is dangerous, though for all it’s fame, nobody has died from being bitten by once since the late 1950s, when an antidote was found.

I did once read that a further difference between the Ancient and Modern spiders was their ability to keep the booklike ‘lungs’ moist. Apparently, if you take a ground dwelling spider and tie it up and hang it in the air, it’s air intake system will eventually dry out and it will die. However, testing the truth of this is not currently on my list of things to do.

Pictured is the Six-spined Christmas, or Jewel Spider (Austracantha minax). The female is a mere 8mm long, though she constructs a web up to 30cm wide. Often it is suspended between branches of adjacent trees some 2 to 4 metres apart. I know this for a fact. I have seen them close up. Too close up.

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