Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Bobby isn’t a baboon spider

It’s long ceased to be a joke (for me) that I once specialised in natural history. When an identification of a wild creature is required, the call will go out (often from Johann): ‘Ask Tracey!’ Then everyone will fall about laughing.

Once, very late in the evening at Johann’s house, he and I were required to deal with a snake in the bathroom. (The circumstances are just too bizarre to go into, and anyway if I did you probably wouldn’t believe me, so let’s just leave it at ‘there was a snake in the bathroom’.) Johann didn’t know me well at the time, and I was quick to tell him that I’d actually written several guidebooks to wild things (which, really, I have), and he was pleased to open the bathroom door about 5mm and allow me a peek, and I, crazed by about 72 hours of constant wakefulness and a lot of Jack, declared it to be a deadly poisonous adder.

Amid much nervous giggling and unintentional falling over and deciding what to leave each other should we be killed by fatal adder envenomation, we managed to get the snake into a box and close the lid. Our plan was then to go outside onto Johann’s very large and utterly unilluminated plot, and release the snake there.

Johann found a torch and, with much hissy fitting, we stepped out into the dark, dangerous night. I held the snake box; Johann held the torch; and, clutching at each other, we ventured forth. Several aeons later, having negotiated a surprise rhododendron and extricated ourselves from a rogue bougainvillaea, we found ourselves at the top of the plot.

With terrible suddenness, the torch gave out.

With equally terrible suddenness, Johann screamed like a girl, spun on his heel and sprinted back in the direction of the house. And I was left in the dark, alone. Aside, of course, from the deadly adder in the box.

Realising that I was a heartbeat away from completely losing my marbles from sheer terror, I tossed the box as far from me as I could before crashing back towards the house, hurdling the bougainvillaea and decimating the rhododendron. There, we toasted our escape from near-certain death with several more Jacks.

Some days later, when reality had got a hold, we looked up the snake in a guide book – interestingly enough, one written by me. It was a not-uncoincidentally named brown house snake (the pic above is one Johann took of the actual creature), and as harmless as an earthworm.

Obviously, I have never lived this down. And now I’m about to smear yet more egg on my face by admitting that Bobby never was a Harpactirella lightfooti (basically, a baboon spider built for speed). Although he has similar markings to that species, his legs aren’t robust enough to make the grade.

He’s a rain spider, a member of the family Heteropodidae (now called Sparassidae): big (they’re also called ‘giant crab spiders’) and quick and scary (and ‘huntsmen’), but as harmless as an earthworm.

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