Backyard Buddies
Huntsman Spiders

Photo: Bill & Mark Bell

Huntsman Spiders

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Huntsman spiders have an unfortunate reputation. One is their name. The other is a tendency to take up residency in your home or your car and scare the bejesus out of you.

But they are harmless to humans and very useful in controlling mosquito and cockroach numbers.

May signals the end of the busy season for a lot of spiders. For many, life will end, while others will start seeking a secure shelter to sleep through winter. But not all are winding down, as there are still some making their daily rounds while there is a touch of warmth in the air and food to be had.

One of these still-active spiders is the very noticeable brown- or grey-coloured Huntsman. These hairy spiders can be as wide as 15 cm. Their front legs are larger than the back ones and bend forwards like those of a crab. This shape also allows them to crawl in all directions very quickly.

In your backyard, you can find them under loose tree bark - hence their nickname 'Tree Spider' - in litter, crevices on rock walls, in logs or underneath rocks. In heavy rain your outdoors huntsman might decide to get out or the rain and temporarily move in with you.

Your house or car are dry, and while not the most attractive guest, your harmless huntsman won't want to stay forever either. If you can bear to leave it there when you go out, you might well find it gone when you come home.

Huntsman do not weave webs like other spiders to catch their food. Instead, they will patiently wait for insects then pounce when the time is right, or in some cases make use of their speed and run-down their victims. They feed at night and mostly on insects and other invertebrates. The cockroach is a particular favourite, so if your house is a refuge for roaches, Huntsman make a great natural insecticide.

Although Huntsman spiders can run fast, sometimes it is just not fast enough. They are a great food source for other animals and insects. Birds, geckoes, nematode worms and the egg parasites of wasps and flies are all huntsman predators.

You may not always see huntsman spiders in action but you will know they have been there when you find their skin. Huntsman must shed their skin to grow.

If you find that your house is a haven for Huntsman spiders then there are a few things you can do. As they are partial to crevices, sealing cracks in walls or doorways in your home will reduce the amount that enter and then stay. Add fly screens to the outside of doors and windows to make it a little harder for the spiders to get in. And working a few large rocks or a tree log into your garden landscape plan will also provide shelter and a home for them, and hopefully out of yours.

Do they bite?

Huntsman spiders do not do much damage to humans. Unless you provoke them, the spiders won't bite. If you do get bitten, a cold pack is usually all you need to relieve any local pain and swelling. However, some species, like the Badge Huntsman, which occupy all parts of Australia, can cause prolonged pain, inflammation or vomiting. If you experience these symptoms, it is best to seek medical attention.

The Mating Game

Huntsman spiders prefer to mate when the weather is warm and humid. Unlike some other species of spider, the males are rarely attacked by the females after mating. When she is impregnated, the female builds a silken sac where she lays her eggs - around 200. The sac is placed under bark or a rock and she will stand guard for a few weeks. During this period the mother can be quite hostile and will rear up in a defensive display if provoked. When she is ready she opens the egg sac and releases her spiderlings into the world. The babies start as a pale colour but will soon take on their distinct grey or brown colour in the weeks that follow.

Did you know?

The huntsman can be quite a social spider and unlike other species, the females and males don't hurt each other and even have a long courtship before they mate. The Social or Flat Huntsman chooses to live in groups of up to 300 where they will raise their children together and even feed each other. Huntsman spiders can live for up to two years.

Tip

As they can move very quickly, instead of using a broom or an object they can run along to move them, try to slowly and gently place a container over them and push a piece of paper underneath. You can now carry them safely outside to release them. Check under your doors and make sure there are no gaps because the Huntsman has a very flat body and can squeeze through surprisingly small spaces.

 

Related Factsheets:

Huntsman Spider

Some Huntsman species live quite socially in groups of up to 300. They will help raise children together and even share food. In 2006 a new type of Huntsman was discovered. It's called the Tiger Huntsman and is bright orange. It's also one of the largest Huntsman and so far it's only been f..

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”Protecting & safeguarding Australia’s wilderness & wildlife is important for the health and enjoyment for our future generations, thanks FNPW for your support of our project.“

Dr Ricky Spencer – Lead Scientist Murray River Turtle Project, NSW

Photo: OEH