One of the most common fears that people have is of spiders. Regardless of your particular opinion, creepy crawlies manage to send a tiny shiver down the spine of even the bravest souls. What if there were a spider that genuinely lived up to the hype of arachnophobia (the fear of spiders)?
The huntsman spider is indeed a marvel of nature, but before we get into the different aspects of the spider itself, let’s take a quick look (rather, a fun take) on the urban legend surrounding it.
Clock spider urban legend
Most of us might believe that urban legends are all scary or chilling, but this urban legend was actually born through meme culture (yes, you read that right). The story goes that a huge huntsman spider was found by someone in their relative’s house. The place they found the spider was under a wall clock (hence the infamous nickname “clock spider”). The person ended up photographing the spider, as shown above.
Now the legend—or perhaps more of a joke—is that the spider had a ninth leg. The reason it lost it is that it had a battle with a limecat (I was also expecting something more intriguing). The “legend” goes on to describe how this spider became a god and some other nonsense about how to worship it (purely a joke, I hope). Now, enough silly modern mumbo-jumbo, let’s jump into the scientific aspects of this fascinating spider.
The huntsman spider is from the family Sparassidae. The Sparassidae family of spiders all have eight eyes, which face forward in two rows of four. This particular species of spiders can grow to incredibly large sizes. In Laos, the male huntsman spider can achieve a leg span of 25 to 30 cm. These spiders are often confused with tarantulas, but the distinguishing factor is that their legs are angular and extend forward, like a crab.
The upper surface of the huntsman spider boasts inconspicuous shades of grey and brown, while the bottom surface of the spider is aposematically colored black and white. The word aposematically means that the color display is a sign of warning to potential predators. These spiders tend to dwell under rocks, tree bark, and similar natural structures. In terms of where they may encroach upon human habitation, the clock spider can be found in common sheds, garages and distributed spaces (less frequently). Their vision is very good, allowing them to detect approaching humans and other large animals from some distance, which is why they may not be seen all that often!
Interestingly, before the huntsman’s ascent to being the (in)famous wall clock spider, the huntsman spider made its appearance in another sensational pop-culture form—Spiderman! Yes, the spider that bites Peter Parker, turning him into his superhero form, is none other than the social huntsman spider.
Like most spiders, the Sparassidae family of spiders use venom to immobilize their prey. Their venom is not only used for hunting, but also comes in handy as a defensive bite tactic.
Huntsman spiders are some of the few spiders that can bite humans and be harmful. Most spiders cannot puncture human skin and even if they manage to do so, their venom isn’t potent enough for anything larger than a small beetle or worm.
That being said, not all huntsman spiders that bite have bites that are dangerous for humans, though many bites are painful and cause inflammation due to the large size of the fangs. There is one neurologically potent huntsman spider out there—Neosparassus in Australia
Neosparassus or Badge Huntsman spiders are a group of spiders found in Australia. They begin their life green and become brown in subsequent molts. These spiders are the main culprits for dangerous spider bites and their bites can cause nausea, headaches and vomiting, though such symptoms occur very rarely.
The male Heteropoda venatoria is a huntsman spider species that can be found all around the world. It has recently been found to deliberately make a substrate-borne sound when it detects a chemical (pheromone) left by a female of the same species. The males try to then find the trail of pheromones left by the females. Once found, they lower themselves to the ground and anchor themselves firmly, after which they use their legs to transmit vibrations from their bodies to the surface with which they are in contact.
Most of the emitted sound is produced by strong vibrations from their abdomen. Each male emits vibrations of a characteristic frequency, which helps females distinguish between different males competing for their attention. The usual pattern of these vibrations consists of short bursts of intense vibrations. If the female is interested in mating, she will follow the vibration to the source, where the male will be awaiting to copulate with her. For humans, these sounds can often be heard as a rhythmic ticking, like a quartz clock that fades in and out. However, such mating “calls” can only be heard in a relatively quiet environment.
So, next time you hear the legend of the clock spider, perhaps you can shed a bit of truthful light, rather than perpetuate the myth!