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home : columns : columns June 24, 2016

8/12/2014 12:25:00 PM
Spiders and other scary things
Now thatís a REAL spider, the Brazilian wandering spider. photo by Jim Anderson
+ click to enlarge
Now thatís a REAL spider, the Brazilian wandering spider. photo by Jim Anderson

By Jim Anderson

When I was a kid - back in the mid to late '30s - fumigating food from foreign lands was unknown. "Things" came to us in our banana shipment.

One of those things was that sporty-looking spider above, the infamous Brazilian wandering spider. If you want to freak out on spiders, that's a good one to start with. Leave all those huge "Charlottes," the colorful orb weavers on your porch and garage, to do their thing - they capture and eat pesky insects and are harmless.

But that guy in the photo is a big bundle of trouble. Their venom (NOT "poison") is powerful enough to kill you. When I was a kid it wasn't uncommon to find one a week wandering around the bananas in the super market of the day, the A&P grocery store.

Today, that rarely happens in any grocery store - if at all. Everything is fumigated from the time the fruit leaves the fields, then again in the warehouse and probably again when it's loaded onto a ship or cargo plane.

As far as I know there are no banana spiders alive and well in the U.S., except in research labs, museums or zoos - and if the federal watchdogs are on the ball, they probably do not allow them to get in with the pet trade.

For your edification, that guy above is in the spider family Tenidae. We know them as the "banana spider;" Brazilians know them by their Portuguese name, "Armadeiras." They are mainly found in tropical South America, wandering around at night preying on insects, small birds and mammals on the forest floor.

As you may have already guessed, Guinness World Records say it's the "Most Venomous Spider on Earth," but an effective antivenin is available and few people die when bitten.

The genus name for this group is Phoneutria - Greek for "murderess" - and the big ones have a leg span of almost six inches. If you insist one got into your bathtub in the middle of the night please don't shoot it. Just coax it into a storage container with a long stick, and call me, or send an email.

If, in the process of capturing the beast, it rears up and shows its fangs, call me! The characteristic defensive posture with frontal legs held high is an especially good indicator to confirm it's the Greek murderess, plus, if it sways from side-to-side, you may have the real thing - but it's a long shot.

This is the right time of year for most of our Sisters Country male sheet-web spiders to be afield searching for new territory and girlfriends. There's about 20 or so species just here in our yards, all of them harmless to humans.

Unfortunately, they all look so much like the infamous so-called hobo spider even a pro can be fooled at times. Don't get excited about the hobo spider. People from south of the border have pumped up hobos to the point where you think they wear a cape, fly over tall buildings, carry you off to their castles and suck your blood.

The jumping spiders are also afield, but you can't mistake them for anything but what they are. The males are equipped with two very large eyes on the front of their carapace (head), with six smaller ones scattered about. They are very hairy and very colorful. Yes, they do wave their forelegs at you to scare you off, but they're about the size of your little fingernail.

Our black widows are hiding in the woodpile, under old boards and junk you haven't moved in a year. Black widows look like black widows, but not all of them have that wonderful red hourglass on the underside of the abdomen. They all do have a black gobbler abdomen, long legs and are black. The male, however, has a white and red pattern on the back.

Enjoy the summer, Good People. If you meet up with some a scary-looking thing you want a name for, capture it alive in a container with a secure lid. Get a hold of me or leave the container (in a paper sack sealed with tape, labeled with your name and number) at The Nugget.

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