Although the Kloof is home to several large species of animal, it is also home to various types of smaller species, including numerous insect, spider and scorpion species. Not even mentioning the abundant bird life!
One of the more abundant spider species that call the Kloof home, are rain spiders – also known as huntsman spiders (Afr: jag spinnekop). They are fairly large spiders with very distinct colouration, especially on their underside. Rain spiders (as they are known in South Africa) take their name from the fact that they are most often found inside our homes before it starts to rain. Forget about the SABC weather report, these guys are hardly ever wrong!
Rain spiders do not spin webs like most other spider species; they are instead active hunters that will pursue prey. The only time they spin “webs” are when building nests. A rain spider nest looks like this – I bet you have seen quite a few of these before and never knew who made it?
Now for all practical reasons, rain spiders are perfectly harmless to us humans. People tend to fear them mainly because of their big size (these guys do get to be very large indeed!) and the fact that they so often wander into our homes. They also put up quite a show when provoked, raising their front legs and exposing their fangs, often running towards and attempting to bite anything brought close to them. Unfortunately, this usually ends in the poor spider simply being killed – either suffering a prolonged death by being sprayed with insecticide not made for anything nearly as large as a rain spider, or by simply being squashed. It is so sad that people in this day and age still do not realise that the rain spider means them no harm and if left alone will most likely find its own way out again, to where it will not be disturbed by lights and people. The most ironic thing is probably killing one of nature’s best pest controllers with the very insecticide that was meant for the rain spider’s natural prey?
If you do happen to find a rain spider in your home, what do you do? Well, easy. Usually just leaving it alone works pretty well and the spider will make its own way out again. If having the spider inside your home bugs you, taking it out is very simple. A large container and a poking instrument of sorts is all you need. Simply place the container in front of the spider and then gently poke its backside with your poking instrument. Now I have to add, these spiders are pretty aggressive, so if you are afraid of spiders rather get someone else to do it! Also, if possible take them out during the day – as they are nocturnal hunters they are almost inactive during the day and it makes taking them out a breeze. At night they tend to run around a bit. Once the spider is in your container (with a lid on preferably), take it out to remote spot in the garden with plenty of plant growth for the spider to hide in and release it. Or even better yet, release it in the Kloof if that would make you feel safer!
Spotting them in the Kloof itself is pretty hard; they are very well camouflaged and usually stay hidden during the day. The easiest way to find them is when they are nesting; the female will always be close to the nest guarding it. Also be on the lookout for outgrown, discarded skins, if there are a few skins in a small area, chances are the spider will be somewhere close by.
For more on rain spiders please see this Wikipedia article – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huntsman_spider
The photos in the gallery below were all taken in homes that are next to the Kloof, but these spiders can be found almost anywhere.