Huntsmen

When I speak to friends back in the UK about visiting, it’s always the spiders they’re concerned about. Not the crocs, not the crazy drivers and not even the drop bears who are far more likely to hurt you. No, it’s the spiders that people worry about. I’m going to try to set the record straight a bit as I talk about huntsmen. But first here are a few general spidery facts to set the scene:

  • There are only two spiders that are properly dangerous here – the Sydney funnel-web and the redback. However you’re very unlikely to be bitten, and if you are there is anti-venom available. Statistically the far more dangerous thing is anaphylactic reaction to bee or wasp stings.
  • There are plenty of other types of spider, some can certainly be unpleasant and many are (very) large compared to UK spiders, but no others can be deadly. This includes the other species of funnel-web and the white-tail which has a bad rap for causing necrotising arachnidism, which is as bad as it sounds, but is very definitely unproven.
  • You almost certainly won’t see any spiders. They’re just not as common as you think. I don’t think any of our visitors have seen any spiders at all. We’ve been here nearly three years, and seen a few, but not many. When the weather warms up we’ve seen a few white-tails in the house – more in our old house than this one. I’ve seen a couple of redbacks in places like the garden shed but that’s largely it.

So, let’s talk about huntsmen. These are less well-known in the UK than some of Australia’s other spiders, but have a big reputation here. The reasons for this are simple – they’re big (very big up north!), they’re hairy, and they run really, really fast. It doesn’t matter how cool you are, I guarantee one of these beasties can make you jump if you’re not expecting it. The good news is they’re harmless – they can bite, but they’re very timid and almost certainly won’t unless you really provoke them.

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Huntsmen are good guys, they eat flies, other insects and pests. They love to squeeze into tiny narrow spaces and just wait – they can fold themselves up into amazingly narrow crevices. They come in all sorts of sizes and colours. Once while we were camping Ginny found a bright pink rubber spider in our tent that one of the boys had left there. She picked it up and threw it out, saying to the boys it was a nice trick, but the pink was completely unrealistic (you know what’s coming next). The boys denied having done anything, and on closer inspection the bright pink huntsman crawled off to bother someone else…

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That’s actually where we’ve generally seen huntsmen – while camping. They do come inside houses, but we’ve never seen one inside (unlike this guy!). But we’ve met them while camping down at Portland, Rosebud and the Grampians. We’ve also found a couple in our mailbox. Maybe we’d get more if we lived further north, where it’s warmer all year round.

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Despite not being dangerous themselves, huntsmen are implicated in a number of accidents and even deaths. This is because of their tendency to surprise drivers in cars, causing them to swerve and possibly crash. The classic ‘attack’ is where one is hiding behind the sun visor, you turn a corner into the sun, pull the visor down and all of a sudden a big hairy beast the size of a dinner plate is sprinting over your lap. I don’t know how much this is an urban legend, but I have to say I always open the sun visors carefully. I’ve never seen one there yet, but others have

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Here’s the biggest one we’ve met so far, up in the beautiful Grampians. That’s Felix’s thumb for scale, so it’s certainly a good size but not like the far-north monsters, such as the largest in the world from Laos.

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And to finish with here’s a pub name that would never work in Australia. Perfectly innocent name for a hostelry in Bath, but just nope in Aus. Thanks to Ginny who dared to get close enough to take this photo and even went inside!

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They’re never going to be cute and cuddly like koalas or possums, but huntsmen are alright. Just be careful with your sun visor…

See more Australian wildlife

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