Stalked By Spiders

Karen Treanor


Copyright 2002 by Karen Treanor


Drawing of huntsman spider by Gerry Wild.

I think the low point of my uneasy relationship with arachnids was the night I put my head out the back door to call in the cat and felt a soft plop on my head, which turned out to be the world's biggest Huntsman. It was easily 350 grams of spider. OK, maybe only 150. But it was really big.

Huntsmen and I have had a very uneasy truce for all the years I've lived in Western Australia. On the one hand, they are useful creatures which eat a great number of crickets and other pesky things. On the other hand, they're spiders. I know they can't help that, but it's a big stumbling block for me.

It goes back to my childhood home in Massachusetts, which had a stone-walled and dirt-floored cellar, which was haunted by every sort of spider imaginable. Sent down to kick the pump into life, or to fetch a cup of kerosene to prime the stove, or bring up a few logs, I would draw my shoulders up so far past my ears I looked like Quasimodo in pigtails. The reason I was always sent down cellar was because my mother was even more of an arachnophobe, and my little sister couldn't kick the pump hard enough to make a difference.

I brought this spider phobia with me to Mundaring in Western Australia's beautiful Hills region, and nothing in my experience here has changed my opinion that Mother Nature must have been having a bad hair day when she decided to put spiders on earth. And she put most of them in my house!

There was the redback, which missed me by 'that much' when I shifted the fridge to do that dusting of the condenser grid that appliance salesmen try to convince you is part of good housekeeping. It was the biggest redback I'd ever seen, bigger than the samples at the W A Museum, and it fought back against the bug spray like a demon. Luckily I had my trusty spray bottle of kitchen cleaner handy, and that finished off the beast. (You can't beat spray on kitchen cleaner for killing bugs of any sort: it's much faster than pyrethrum or permethrin or even DDT.) Redbacks are first cousins to Black Widows, and you don't want them to get their fangs into you if you can avoid it.

There was the golden orb spider that for some unaccountable reason stopped making her web across the picture window and decided to anchor it to the front porch light fixture. I wore her on my glasses for several feet before I realised what had happened as I stepped out the front door and into her web. Did you know that no matter how fast you try, you can't back up out of a spider web? Especially with the spider in it.

There was the beautiful Christmas spider that made a web across the reading lamp's shade. The visiting granddaughters informed me I couldn't have the light on because it would cook the spider. I put up with this for three days; after they went home I carefully moved the spider to the garden with the aid of a soup ladle.

Let me not forget to mention the mouse spider. For those fortunate enough not to have met one, they are really really big. And hairy. And aggressive. I don't know if they are called mouse spiders because they are as big as mice, or because they eat mice--you could believe either theory. I was on my own when the mouse spider appeared in the kitchen, no son or husband or even cat to call on.. You could hear its feet going "tippity-tip" on the tile floor, no exaggeration. A quick browse in the spider book informed me that while mouse spiders are not as poisonous as funnel web spiders, they can nevertheless deliver a nasty bite. With the aid of the broom, I hooked open the back door, and chivvied the large spider over the threshhold, and pushed it though the cat door. It barely made it.

There was the pathetic five legged spider which lived in the kitchen and made a nightly circuit around the ceiling molding. I felt so sorry for it with its three and a half legs on one side and one and a half on the other that I couldn’t bring myself to kill or evict it. It rewarded my compassion by vivisecting a cricket over the butter dish, which I didn't notice until I had spread the last toasted muffin with crunchy butter. (A lesson to us all never to prepare breakfast without our bifocals.)

And last but not least was the recent encounter with the wolf spider. She and I surprised each other in the bath. My response was a shriek; her response was to dump all 200 of her babies on the edge of the bath, effectively trapping me there until they finally scuttled over the edge and down to the floor where mother awaited. She packed them all up again and trundled off under the door to infest some other part of the house.

"Doesn't the bath water get cold and nasty when you're in it that long?" inquired my husband as I crept out at long last, shivering.

"It tones the skin. Beauticians recommend it." I said, between chattering teeth. Be damned if I was going to admit that a ten gram insect and her poppy-seed sized infants had bailed me up for 20 minutes. I think I'll take showers until wolf spider hatching season is over. However, in the shower recess lives a family of Daddy Long-legs….

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