We bet you looked away and sat further back in your seat when you saw the photo right? Well, before you hit the close button, we dare you to put aside your fear of spiders and take a closer look at this little gem.
Once in a while you come across a creature that most people fear, but if you stop and take the time to look and learn, you may just find out something new and fascinating about this industrious arachnid.
This was the case when my group and I came across a beautiful baboon spider sunning itself after a long cold night (or a long night of fighting crime – Mr Spiderman). This spider allowed us to get very close – to the point where we could see all the little hairs on its body and legs that it uses to hunt with at night.
Baboon spiders are part of the Tarantula species. There are 42 documented species of these hairy spiders found in South Africa: the common baboon spider (Harpactira), the lesser baboon spider (Harpactirella), and the horned baboon spider (Ceratogyrus).
Our sighting was a very rare and unique experience, because these spiders are normally found at the bottom of a small hole in the ground where they nest. Baboon spiders are more ambush hunters, rather than web spinners. They often lie waiting for unsuspecting prey to come close before pouncing out for an easy meal. They use their larger fangs to kill their prey instead of an injection of venom like many other spider species. Baboon spiders prey on a variety of insects, beetles, scorpions and even small reptiles.
Baboon spiders themselves are also heavily preyed upon. They are often a food source for birds, centipedes, reptiles (lizards, chameleons), insectivorous mammals (honey badgers, shrews, bats, mice and baboons), and even other arachnids such as scorpions.
It is the last two segments of this spiders’ leg which looks slightly like the finger of a baboon – hence the name baboon spider. Therosaphids are easily recognizable, being large, robust and hairy. The South African species range in size from 13 – 90 mm and come in hues of brown, grey, yellow or black. In general baboon spiders are not aggressive and will only react if provoked. On a side note, it is a general rule that the bigger the spider the less venom it has, but still be careful, they can give you a nasty, painful bite.
The sad thing is that most of the time no one would give a baboon spider a second glance because of the way it looks and the ingrained fear many humans have of spiders. However, these little beauties are very important in the natural world. They help in controlling the number of insects and other invertebrates. Without them, we humans would be overrun by all manner of creepy crawlies, making life very difficult.
So in conclusion, next time you are lucky enough to find one of these little unsung superhero’s, stop and take the time to get a closer look and you will find that they are really your friendly neighbourhood spiders.
Written by: Alister Kemp
Kapama Southern Camp