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 behind that shaggy body is a critter harmless to us humans, but also quite useful in controlling mossies and roaches.
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 from leg to leg. 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 in cosy places like 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 get its feet too wet for its liking and will 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.
Have you ever watched a huntsman hunt?
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 fond of a hearty Huntsman meal.
You may not always see Huntsman spiders in action but they can leave a very noticeable ‘I was here’ message in your yard or house: 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. Adding 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?
While they may be scary looking, the huntsman do not do much damage to humans. Unless you provoke them, the spiders wont bite. If you somehow 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 see medical attention to be sure.
The Mating Game
Huntsman spiders prefer to mate when the weather is warm and humid. Male huntsman are a lucky lot. Unlike some other species of spider, they 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 mum 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.
This Little Troublemaker Reforms into a Shy Good Samaritan
Don't be scared of this furry friend. It may be unwelcome in some people's backyards but really it's the gentle giant of spiders.
With a size of up to 15 cm, long hairy legs and large pincers on its head, it's understandable that you might not like getting too close to the poor old huntsman.
Despite their threatening appearance, the huntsman knows it cannot "hunt man" and will run away when approached instead of attacking. If you do get a bite from stepping on or accidentally touching one, don't worry as its venom doesn't affect humans, however it may hurt a little.
Although the huntsman spider mainly hangs out under the bark of trees, they do sometimes venture into your house looking for some tasty insects. It's because of this that some people have it in for these guys, but maybe if they knew what the huntsman is really doing then we'd all be more grateful.
Like the other animals in this month's B-mail, the huntsman is a skilled lone hunter
that spends much of its time waiting to stalk his prey. Their diet is carnivorous and they mainly feed on insects and other spiders. This is great news for us because they will go after lots of creepy crawlies that we probably don't want in our homes such as cockroaches and mozzies.
The female spider makes a great mum. She will lay all 200 of her eggs inside an egg sack which she places behind bark or under a rock. While the babies are developing she will stand guard to protect them day and night for three weeks without even stopping for food.
When the babies are ready to hatch, some huntsman mums will moisten the sack that's covering them and help tear it open. She can be a bit touchy when she's looking after her babies. You may see her rear up to scare away any predators nearby.
If the huntsman had hands, you might like to give it a high five when you see one in your home. It will keep on patrolling your house and garden, looking for all sorts of bugs and removing them for you, free of charge. Thank you Huntsman Spider, maybe you're not such a trouble maker after all.
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.
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.