Creepy- crawly fun

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - BOOKS - CLYDE SELBY

NEIGH­BOURS ob­jected to the chok­ing fumes of in­sec­ti­cide con­stantly em­a­nat­ing from a house down the road from where I lived in Western Aus­tralia.

The owner claimed to have been bit­ten by a white- tailed spi­der and would show the per­sis­tent sore on her arm as proof.

This was de­spite the gen­er­ally mut­tered agree­ment that the woman’s venom was more than a match for that of a lit­tle spi­der.

John Dou­glas en­ters the de­bate about the Lam­ponidae by as­sert­ing that while they may cause some un­pleas­ant symp­toms, necrotic ul­cers are highly un­likely.

The au­thor has had many par­al­lel lives as a de­signer, a graph­ics teacher, a pho­tog­ra­pher of Aus­tralian wildlife and well as be­ing a ded­i­cated arachnophile.

Spi­ders with their in­stinct to scurry into dark re­cesses re­quire much pa­tience and per­se­ver­ance when it comes to ob­tain­ing their im­age. Dou­glas nev­er­the­less has com­piled a vis­ual record of all known mem­bers of the arach­nid fam­ily that ex­ist in Tas­ma­nia.

Be­sides the in­tro­duc­tion there is lit­tle text. The for­mat is to present pho­to­graphs that show one or two sub- species per page.

Un­der­neath is in­for­ma­tion about a par­tic­u­lar spi­der’s name fol­lowed by brief facts per­tain­ing to body size, habi­tat and tox­i­c­ity.

Spi­ders poi­sonous to hu­mans are few in Tas­ma­nia al­though two do earn places on the highly dan­ger­ous list. These are the fun­nel- web which is found in damp logs in the forests while rubbish in back­yards could be oc­cu­pied by the raggedy- webbed red- back.

Dou­glas also warns that all trap­door spi­ders, the cave spi­der and ag­gres­sive for­est hunter are to be treated with cau­tion, while gar­den wolf spi­ders are poi­sonous to cats and dogs.

A mag­ni­fy­ing glass might be nec­es­sary but a study of spi­ders re­veals that many have at­trac­tive ap­pear­ances such as the pea­cock jump­ing spi­ders. There are sev­eral colour vari­a­tions in the enam­elled- back spi­der that is found around Ho­bart but if your tastes veer to­wards black and white there is the spotted swift spi­der and the wa­ter spi­der.

Clev­er­ness abounds in the arach­nid fam­ily but few can match the in­ge­nu­ity of the net- cast­ing spi­der or the cam­ou­flag­ing abil­ity of the wrap- around sub- species.

This book will be of in­ter­est to those who like more pre­cise iden­ti­fi­ca­tions of liv­ing crea­tures, as well as adults wish­ing to in­stil a re­spect in chil­dren for na­ture’s ta­pes­try as a means of in­struc­tion. It would be heart­en­ing to know that young people were learn­ing to ap­pre­ci­ate the vi­tal role spi­ders play in the ecol­ogy and to kill them is a rep­re­hen­si­ble act.

To end on a “book­end”, when it comes to mythol­ogy be­ing de­bunked in Webs, the Phol­ci­dae, alias daddy long- legs, is not only harm­less to hu­mans but is def­i­nitely not the world’s dead­li­est spi­der.

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