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Tantalising tarantulas!


Michael Tubby

I hate spinifex. I understand that it is an important part of the local ecosystem, however I really dislike having to walk through the stuff. It stabs into your shins and stings a lot. So when I was sent to look for spider burrows I opted for the edge of an escarpment, below the line of spinifex. I was told to look for a hole that had silk around the opening. I was walking slowly, dodging termite mounds until I found a hole that seemed to fit the description. I called for the arachnologist (spider scientist) who made his inspection and found that the burrow was a little old – probably belonging to a male who had since moved on or been eaten by a female. I still wasn’t clear on what type of spider we were looking for exactly. He instructed us to look around nearby for a fresh female hole while he collected his tools – however he ended up spotting one himself on the way. We gathered around as he used various odd tools to dig deep into the ground, swatting away biting termites as he worked until finally he found a female spider.

A tarantula.

A tarantula the size of a golf ball.

A tarantula the size of a golf ball with a baby.

He told us that females of this group of spiders laid 100 eggs, but that only one baby survived, I assume because all the babies ate each other. Dr Raven also told us that if bitten, a purpose would be violently ill for 6 to 8 hours, and that this spider could kill small mammals like cats and dogs. He said it was an undescribed species related to one found near Chillagoe – we’ve found many unnamed spiders on this trip, but not many unnamed moths, mammals, reptiles, birds, bees, etc. I’m noticing a pattern – we’re much more likely to find new species of organisms that cannot move very far. Big animals and flying insects can travel large distances, so they aren’t easily cut off from other populations for long enough for new species to form. Spiders, on the other hand, hardly move during their lives, so they can get cut off and form new populations which develop into new species.