Rain spiders have gotten quite a bad reputation due to their hairy, eight-eyed, eight-legged look, but these little guys deserve the benefit of the doubt. They are quite fascinating creatures, and play a very important role in the ecosystem.
1. Cape Town to Kosi Bay
Rain spiders, also called huntsman spiders or lizard-eating spiders, are part of the genus Palystes. They are found in Africa, India, Australia and the Pacific. South Africa is home to numerous species, including P. superciliosus, one of the most common species of rain spider. These creatures can be found throughout the country, from Cape Town to Kosi Bay.
2. Down came the rain
Rain spiders don’t like rain – this is how they got their name. When it rains they tend to take cover inside a house, where they are often encountered by the unsuspecting residents. Just like us, they like to keep warm and dry.
3. What’s on the menu?
These arachnids don’t make spiderwebs, but instead hunt plant-dwelling insects outside (though they might be drawn inside if you have a bit of a bug problem). Their favourite meal is Parktown prawns, but they also like geckos such as the marbled leaf-toed gecko.
4. Mommy and me
From about November to April, females start nesting. They weave leaves and twigs together with silk. The protective mother will guard this nest until the little spiderlings, who hatch inside, chew their way out when they are ready to face the world. These sacs are about 60-100mm in size.
5. Big, bigger, biggest
Rain spiders are quite large, with a body length of 15 to 36mm, and a leg span of up to 110mm. This puts them among the biggest non-tarantula spiders worldwide. The females are bigger than the males, but the males are brighter and have longer legs.
6. Dynamite doesn’t always come in small packages
It can be quite scary to encounter an angry rain spider with its front legs raised as a warning, but for humans their bite is in fact not much worse than a bee sting.
7. Wasp vs rain spider
Although these fearsome-looking spiders seem like not much could be a threat to them, they aren’t quite at the top of their food chain. They are hunted by Pompilid wasps, which sting them, causing paralysis. The spider is then dragged off to become food for the wasp’s egg when it hatches.
Rain spiders are often confused with their fatter and hairier cousins, baboon spiders. These spiders get their name from their hairy appearance, as well as the scopulae pads on their feet, which are similar to those of baboons. Their bite isn’t dangerous to humans either – but it is painful!
9. Don’t judge a book by its cover
Even the bravest of souls can turn into a whimpering wreck at the sight of a big, hairy spider – but remember that spiders are a very important part of our world. They keep the insect population under control, the chemical properties in their venom could provide new breakthroughs in medicine (scientists learn more every year), and yet-undiscovered compounds in spider silk could prove to have important uses. Unfortunately, many species are under threat from habitat loss and other factors. So the next time you find four pairs of eyes staring at you, resist the urge to throw your shoe at it, and keep in mind that every extinct species is a possibly life-saving new discovery lost. If that spider is making you a bit uncomfortable though, simply put a container over him, slide a piece of paper underneath, and escort him outside.
10. It’s raining spiders!
Some species of spiders have quite an interesting method of transportation, called mass ballooning. This is when spiders climb to the tops of high trees or something similar, and use silk strands to catch air currents to catch a lift to a new location. They can be blown quite far this way, and the effect is quite terrifying – it literally rains spiders. Luckily this mainly happens in Australia, but there have also been a few occurrences in the Northern Hemisphere.