Saturday, December 7, 2013

Arachnophobia in Taiwan

One afternoon way back in 1990 I was watching Arachnophopia in the movie theatre when, sometime during the suspense of the giant spiders, I reached down for my soda and put my hand on something I wasn’t expecting. Yikes! Thankfully, it was just a napkin which had fallen from my lap.

Fast forward 20 years to Taiwan. Anyone who has lived here for a few years has had one or more of these large unwelcome critters creep into their house.

In Taiwanese, they’re called LaYa 喇犽, Mandarin is 白額高腳蛛. In English, they are known as Huntsman spiders, heteropoda venatoria (also known as the giant crab spider or the banana spider—it has also apparently made its way to Florida, Texas, and California). Although their bite is supposedly harmless for humans and they help reduce the local cockroach population, I would rather not have them around the house, thank you very much! More than once I’ve felt one crawl across me in the middle of the night, or looked up from my bed to see one suspended to the wall. Aaarrrrgggh!! They manage to get my adrenalin going every time. And they are so fast—not easy at all to track down, although a direct spray of insect repellent will (eventually) kill them.

All this to share what happened to me last night. After a long day, I came in to change clothes and saw a spider I did not recognize from previous experience high up on the wall. It looked more or less like the spider above, but it was larger and had a white rectangular shape (about 1 inch square) fanning out underneath it. As usual, I freaked out, grabbing for the spray and hoping for the best. I managed to get in two good shots before it hid in a crack in the wall behind my wardrobe.

Relating my description to Taiwanese family, they said: “That’s a Face 人面 Spider!  tThey don’t usually come inside. We have lots of them here  Their bite can be deadly!”  So for the next hour before I fell off the sleep I couldn’t stop thinking that maybe we had one of these terrors in the room next door. I had better be careful walking over there in the morning to put on my clothes! Note: Latin name is nephila pilipes.

In the morning I found nothing in the room but had a few minutes to surf the net before work. Apparently this spider still manages to kill a few people every year or so here in Taiwan, but usually the effect of the effect of the venom dissipates “within a day or two.” I don’t want one in my undy/sock drawer!

This afternoon when I came home to investigate the room by moving furniture piece-by-piece, to my relief I found dozens and dozens of tiny dead baby spiders everywhere… as well as the dead mother. As it turns out what I had seen was the former “harmless” (except for the threat of  heart attack) variety. I had sprayed her in the nick of time… just before she laid her eggs… The egg pouch was the white object I had seen and now picked up off the floor. I feel very thankful to have seen her when I did… I’m told these things grow up quickly and I can’t imagine how hard it would have been to track down all the youngsters if they had hatched and had a few days headstart!

Interested in learning more? This link talks about the common spiders of Taiwan. Although it’s in Chinese, the next to last listing in the index shows you some scientific names with picture links.