Nature Stuff

What can you do if Huntsman spiders freak you out?

I was developing quite a fear of Huntsman spiders. That’s a really common fear. I figured it wasn’t good to be so afraid. So here’s what I did to fix my own fear of these critters. But first of all, some other stuff that might help.

hidden spider

Hidden behind the orange box is a photo of a Huntsman. Not a normal photo, I used Advanced Technology to make it difficult to recognise the spider. No seriously, if you have a genuine spider phobia then DON’T CLICK THE BUTTON!

What’s the big deal with Huntsmans?

It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out why so many people are spooked by these spiders. They’re big, hairy and run very fast. So, here are a few basic facts about them that might help.

Spider-fear cartoon

I’ll start with the fact that despite their size, Huntsmans are timid critters. Yes, seriously. They are much more afraid of us than we are of them. There must be hundreds or even thousands of situations where people I know have encountered Huntsmans, but I don’t personally know anyone who’s been bitten by one (even though it does happen sometimes). So the odds are in your favour.

Now, we know that they sometimes wander indoors. For example, very occasionally I find one in my office. It’s likely that they wander into places like my office because of its similarity to a cave, which rather than revealing anything sinister about the Huntsmans, simply only goes to say a lot about my office.

Huntsmans probably have poor eyesight. We don’t know exactly how we’d look to a Hunstman spider but it’s most likely they’d just see us as simple moving shapes.

Mark David spider fear cartoon

That explains why you sometimes see one stretching its legs out in what looks like an aggressive manner, should you get close enough. It’s not wanting to wrestle with you — more likely it's just trying to figure out if you’re a threat or some tasty insect food. When it finally realises how much bigger you are than an insect it’s going to be really scared of you.

Do they jump?

Umm… Yes. No. Maybe. I’ve personally never seen one jump, but I’ve seen some do very small small, very low leaps every few steps in their enthusiasm to run away from me.

How do you keep them out of your car?

Don’t give them your keys.

No seriously, if you live in an area where you get Huntsmans, which includes a whole lot of Australia, then keep your car’s windows and doors shut at night. That’s when they tend to wander around looking for food, and you don’t want to make it easy for them to get in.

Huntsman spiders can sometimes hide under your car’s sun visor so if you’re nervous about them, then it makes a lot of sense to check under the visor at a safe time, eg: before you’re in the car driving.

You think there’s one in your car. How do you get it out?

You don’t have to call in the Army. In fact, the Australian Museum’s excellent website offers a great suggestion for just this situation: park your car outside in the sun for a while. The spider won’t like the heat and might just crawl out by itself. In those circumstances I think leaving the windows or doors open will be important — assuming you’re in a neighbourhood where it’s safe to leave your car open. I mean you don’t want to come back to see the spider still there but your car gone. Remember to close the doors and windows before things start cooling off again or else some other spider might just crawl in to take its place, which kind of defeats the purpose in my opinion.

Mark David spider fear cartoon

Extreme heat: arch enemy of the spider

No, I’m not suggesting the solution to a Huntsman in your car is to torch the car. That’s a bit extreme and insurance companies take a dim view of it. But things can get mighty hot in a car if you leave it in full Aussie summer sun for long enough. I can’t guarantee this, and this is only a personal hunch, but I reckon that if you left your car parked in full sun all day in the summer in most parts of Australia it will get so hot inside, for so long, that pretty much all the spiders and insects, or even their eggs, could not survive. And hey, it doesn’t involve toxic chemicals. So the spiders might not live longer, but you will.

So how did I fix my Huntsman ‘phobia’?

I’ll start out by saying that I am NOT a doctor. I have no training in this stuff and as far as I know, neither have the Huntsmans. I can only tell you about my experience and what worked for me. So if you have any confusion or worries about this stuff, or don’t know who to listen to: me or a doctor? Then that’s easy to answer: listen to the doctor!

Also, I don’t know if I had a true phobia. However I’d reached the stage where, despite being fully aware that Huntsmans weren’t dangerous, I would involuntarily shiver as soon as I saw one — I couldn’t prevent that — and didn’t feel capable of being near them.

Genuine phobias are described as intense irrational fears which can get in the way of living a normal life. So I don’t know if my reaction to Huntsmans qualified as a proper phobia or not. If you do suffer from a phobia then you’re not alone and you’ll be pleased that there are ways of fixing them. I’d suggest that if you suffered any sort of phobia then you should talk to your doctor about recommending a therapist who has experience in treating phobias. This applies to people of all ages, genders and sizes. However, probably because my situation was not as intense I was able to fix things myself.

Mark David spider fear cartoon

Here’s what I did

Each time I saw a Huntsman I’d get a broom to deal with it, but once I had my broom I would just stand there watching it (that is, watching the spider, not the broom) until my nervous reaction stopped. It was obvious I couldn’t get into any trouble — I could rely on the awesome protective qualities of brooms if the spider went for me (which of course it NEVER did. I mean, we’re talking about Huntsman spiders, not wild bulls). When I’d spent a few minutes with the spider and had calmed down I’d use the broom to sweep it away. Brooms are good like that. They keep you a broom’s-length away from the spider.

Then every new time I saw a Huntsman I did the same thing, but I made a point of moving in closer to it than the last time, reaching a point where I felt really uncomfortable again. Then I’d just stay put — not retreating but standing there watching it until my nervous reaction (feeling freaked out and shivering and stuff) eased off.

Now you might feel strange just standing there watching a Huntsman. So if someone sees you and asks what you’re doing, you can always tell them you’re in a staring competition with the spider — seeing who blinks first. If they say that spiders don’t blink, tell them that’s why you’ve been there so long.

Over the course of about three or four visits by Huntsmans I got to the point where I was able to walk right up to them and catch them in a plastic container so I could take them outside. The process I went through, without even realising there was a name for it, is called desensitising. Huntsmans don’t freak me out any more. In fact now I now kind of admire them and think they’re pretty cool. I often happily get ridiculously close to them to take my wildlife photos.

So that’s how I handled my fear of Huntsmans. Forgive me if I leave it to the Huntsmans to figure out what to do with their fear of humans.

You’ll know if you can handle my method or not. But I’ll say it again: if you have a true phobia then I encourage you to first talk about it with a proper doctor before trying any sort of self-help. There is nothing to feel bad or embarrassed about. I know of huge genuinely-tough blokes who freak out at the sight of Huntsman spiders, and the experts can treat a phobia quickly — faster than I did with myself — and with safety.

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