Thursday, March 1, 2012

Huntsmen - the gentle giants

When I was interviewing about arachnophobia for the book, it was the huntsmen which were mentioned most, causing far more fear than spiders which could actually do harm, such as the red-back. It's all about size, hairy legs and their unique ability to suddenly be on a wall where there was no spider just a second ago. Then - even worse - to be gone again. Where? (Click on spiders for larger image).

Badge huntsman, Neosparassus diana

There have been three different species of huntsmen (family Sparassidae) around the house so far this season. This adorable badge huntsman, Neosparassus diana, nearly ended up in the rubbish bin. Fortunately I noticed her just as I was going to throw the plastic bag in the bin. 

Badge huntsmen are smaller (about 16 mm body length when adult) compared to up to 22 mm or so for the larger species. They also tend to crunch up like this, and look most un-huntsmanlike. They are claled badge huntsmen because they have a 'badge' on the underside of the abdomen. This little one had been hassled enough, so I didn't put her on glass to photograph. She eventually got enough confidence to unscrunch and run under the table leg on the verandah, as in the first image. But fear not, I can show you a badge. Here's one I prepared earlier... (That's not his web. He's just near a black house spider web on the window).

Spiders on the window are not unusual - they are taking full advantage of our light bringing in dinner. This is the social huntsman, Delena cancerides. In the wild, they will often live in groups under the bark. This is unusual for spiders who tend to be solitary creatures unless they are after sex. Social huntsmen are large and common, up to 22 mm body length. Here is what we see from the loungeroom.

And here he is from outside.

But my favourite huntsman has been a young guy who lived in the house for a few weeks. He was known as Little Friend because he seemed small for a huntsman. Maybe he was a juvenile, because he was hanging around last May. I think he is a young spotted huntsman, Holoconia immanis, but I'm not certain. He would appear from flat openings we hadn't even realised were there, such as this door edge. [Update: May 2013- I finally identified him! He's a Victorian Huntsman, Isopedella victorialis. Thanks]

Mostly he stayed hidden, so we'd go days without seeing him. Then he'd appear. The photo below is on the kitchen ceiling when he decided he didn't want to be photographed - he's rearing up a bit and showing his fangs. I'm underneath him. They have no trouble hanging on when upside down. Incredible creatures!

Some visitors were a bit concerned about his strolling up and down the corridor continuously one day, so I conceded and put him outside.

He strolled across the window ...

... and was soon back inside. I was delighted. I just didn't tell anyone, and he stayed unobserved until the visitors left. He stayed around for a few more weeks, then was gone.

I've been very busy with finishing my doctoral thesis and my new job - a few days a week with the wonderful students at Castlemaine Secondary College. But I have a lot of photos and they will all end up here.

Update on the regulars:

They all disappeared, and I don't think any of the garden orb weavers (Eriophora pustulosa) made it to breeding. How sad is that?

But my golden orb weaver (Nephila edulis) did brilliantly - Welcome's egg sac hatched!!!! I ended up with a houseful of tiny orb weavers. That's a story to tell in the next blog!

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