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the web of life in southern Africa

Handling and keeping spiders

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Removing an unwanted spider from the home

On many occasions the Museum receives alarmed calls from members of the public regarding a spider in the home that they need to remove urgently (or sooner). Up to this stage they have thankfully restrained themselves from dousing the unfortunate animal with insecticide. The cause for concern is usually the rain spider, Palystes or the baboon spider, Harpactira. Bear in mind that most spiders, especially the big hairy jobs, are harmless to man. The brown button spider will generally not be found in the home and the only one that presents a problem is the small beige sac spider. The black button spider, Latrodectus indistinctus  would also not be found in the home. The latter occurs from Belville northwards and up the West Coast area. It used to be a problem in the days of manual grain harvesting when workers were bitten regularly.

Anyway, to remove the spider, merely approach the animal quietly (no, they will not jump onto you), and place a transparent jar gently over it, so that the animal ends up in the jar, being careful not to crush the legs. Then insert a piece of firm paper or card between the jar and the surface on which the animal is sitting. Keep the card against the mouth of the jar until you are outside where the animal can be released. No, don't rush out as if you are carrying a time-bomb - you'll probably trip over the cat. 

Cartoon by Margie Cochrane

Once outside, don't throw the animal out from a dizzy height as it will get injured and then you might as well have used the insecticide in the first place. Merely go outside calmly, lower the jar to the ground and let the spider walk out of the jar and on to the ground. Preferably, leave the jar on the ground with the spider in it and let it make its own way out. This will eliminate the chance of the spider making a dash for freedom - up your arm.

  Cartoon by Margie Cochrane

Should the animal be on the ceiling and out of reach, either sleep in another room if the thought of sharing the room is too much, or get a ladder and follow the above procedure. Don't be tempted to knock the animal down with a broom. It will probably get injured or end up behind some furniture where you will not be able to see or reach it and then you will probably never want to enter the room again.

Keeping spiders

Spider-keeping is not for those whose only aim in life is to attract attention by scaring one's friends to death. Only if one is seriously interested in studying spiders and knows for certain that one will be a committed and careful spider-keeper should you proceed to keep them. They require the same care and attention as any pet.

  • A suggested species with which to start spider-keeping is Palystes. It is large and fairly active for about 2 years. It can be handled, at the risk of being bitten. After successfully looking after this spider for its life span, one can then consider something larger. However, PERMITS MAY BE REQUIRED FOR BABOON SPIDERS.
  • Try and make the spider's living conditions as much like its natural habitat as possible. A good container to use is a rectangular glass fish-tank covered with a wooden framed wire gauze lid allowing plenty of air. Be careful to weight the lid for the baboon spiders, as they are able to lift the lids. (Should you keep a solphugid sun spider, although not a spider, bear in mind that it is able to chew through the wire gauze so something more substantial will need to be used).
  • Always leave water for the animal in the form of cotton wool in a small container (jar lid) of water. Ensure that the cotton wool is always soggy. Spiders don't have tongues for lapping up the water; they squeeze and suck it out.
  • Spiders don't need to eat every day but need to be fed regularly. The food, and the frequency of it, will depend on the spider and this will have to be established. If you are keeping a baboon spider, crickets and cockroaches are fine.
  • Do not leave the container in the sun. Position it in a well lit, warm, shaded area.
  • Keep a diary/log. When was it fed, when it shed its skin (ecdyses etc.)

You might even experiment with your captive's taste in music. The Museum once had an interesting call from a member of the public who had been keeping a baboon spider for quite a while and related the long tale of how, by the process of elimination, he had discovered that his spider was very fond of Beethoven. So, there might be spiders out there that have not yet discovered the Spice Girls or Leon Schuster. Not too loud though, spiders can be very sensitive to vibrations.

Text by Norman Larsen , cartoons by Margie Cochrane