Spiders of Wales: Friendly webs and unknown terrors

Spiders of Wales: Friendly webs and unknown terrors

A few nights ago, as I sat happily at the dining room table, a giant spider casually sauntered across the floor like he owned it. He was inches from my foot. When he caught my eye, I must have let out a holler. He froze, but is now no more.

This was not the largest I have seen. Here in Wales they grow ’em big enough to saddle up and ride around. But a 3″ this beast inside the house is big. Too big. I now understand what Rowling was thinking when she wrote the spiders into the Harry Potter books. 

I have lived in many places with spiders but they seem to be a whole different species here, and are both frequently large, numerous and formidable. I vacuumed up over a hundred 1/4″ spiderlings cheerfully walking on the ceiling inside of the flat, who arrived out of nowhere without warning. As the nozzle reached them they tried parachuting down but I was too fast for them. I am certain Rowling had a similar experience. My most intense spider experience was in the fort, walking down a long lighting corridor, beyond a room where tiny black bats hung resting upside down. My guide pointed out the spiders on the ceiling. There were hundreds, fat and shiny brown minding their own business, and confined to just one area. In the light of the torch, they were rather pretty, still and glistening. But there were a LOT OF THEM.

Now to put this into perspective, the ceiling is quite low, in fact just a few inches above my head. I have long curly hair and I was sure they were going to come along for a ride. And they bite. And it HURTS. And these were the largest of any I had seen shaped like a black widow. SO I was entirely ready to make a hasty exit, even though it meant running the gauntlet under a few hundred of the little beasts. I escaped unscathed, and they appeared to pay no attention to us at all. It gave me the heebie-jeebies anyway.

So why is it, when I have caught and played with tarantulas, hunted black widows with a vengeance, that these others are so unsettling? 

I thought nothing of heading out to the garden late at night with a torch and a bottle of lacquer hair spray on patrol for black widows. Black widows make a huge ominous shadows at night in the light, so you can easily find them in the garden and if you give them a squirt of lacquer, they will not ever try to bite you.

I have walked through acres of tarantulas fearless, where there were so many of the thick, fuzzy brown beasts toddling on their way, that you had to be careful not to step on them. The difference is understanding. I understand and respect tarantulas. I prefer the brown ones, however. The black tarantulas are a bit witchy. But the brown tarantulas are quite sweet and helpful. 

For over a century, out West, we always put a brown tarantula in the tack shed and barn to take care of the flies. They live there happily and do their job nicely. My grandfather did that, my father did, and so did I. But you would not know to do that unless you were a true, dyed in the wool Westerner. City slickers have no idea. We have a longstanding and positive relationship with brown tarantulas. We have no fear of them at all and trust them. Yet, that trust and respect does not transfer easily to other spider creatures. 

We are highly particular. Practically any other spider that ventures too close is menacing and fair game, especially black widows, whom we regard as evil.  

There is an exception for the garden spider, whose job it is to build a huge and lovely web, which can be annoying where you usually walk, but it will catch dewdrops in the moonlight. We accommodate their existence and membership in our garden. And of course red jumping spiders who are quite cute and very entertaining. Did I mention that we just pretend Daddy longlegs are not there, even though they are one of the most toxic venom producers that exist? Yes, we are quite particular and completely capricious about spiders. But in Wales, beware. They can take your breath away.

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