Friends often ask me why I love spiders and find it actually weird whenever I would say that they are cute. Then again, they did not grow up with spiders. I cannot even remember when I started playing with these animals. All I know is that in my family, these eight-legged creatures are like good luck charms—the bearers of good fortune. Many may not think much of spiders but without them, insect populations would run amok.
Let’s take the case of a big brown spider you see in your bathroom or kitchen. Oftentimes, you would think twice about taking a bath or grabbing a bite to eat when this spider is around. The mere sight of it automatically makes many people cringe. It is a normal reaction because many people mistakenly think that these spiders are tarantulas. Do not however, head for the nearest bug spray in the cupboard. But be not afraid, this spider is Heteropoda venatoria L. It sinks its teeth (i.e. mandibles) into something we hate even more…cockroaches! H. venatoria is a predator of house roaches like Periplaneta americana L. Once they bite into their prey, their venom literally melts the insides of the cockroach, allowing them to feed. Who’s on liquid diet now?
This spider is known by many names. Some call it crab spider while others refer to this as the banana spider or the huntsman spider. The latter name refers to the manner by which they rapidly catch their prey. To avoid debates, it’s best to use H. venatoria.
H. venatoria is a member of the family Sparassidae. Their eight eyes are arranged in two distinct rows composed of four eyes each. They appear crab-like but move lightning fast when hunting for prey. This spider’s hunting behavior is the main reason why you will never find them making any silken orb webs inside the house or even in forest ecosystems. If you think of it this way, these spiders do not need nets to catch prey. Rather, they actively chase their foods, which are mainly insects and other arthropods; another plus factor when you hate cleaning off cobwebs at home.
Females of this spider carry their egg sacs with them to protect their young until they can go out on their own. Spiderlings or young spiders need to disperse in order to avoid competing with their parents and siblings for food. We humans, we sometimes stay with our parents until even after marriage. So who’s the more independent species now?
Some more creative Filipinos have used numerical patterns they find under these egg cases and used them as guide in betting in small town lotteries. Many swear by this practice. Personally, I have not really tried looking at the egg cases in search of that elusive “winning number.” Truthfully-speaking, I do not even win in local raffles. Maybe one of you has had an encounter with this spider that you can share?
The writer is member of the faculty of the Environmental Biology Division; Institute of Biological Sciences and Curator, Entomology Section, Museum of Natural History, UP Los Banos, College, Laguna. Information provided in this article was made possible through a basic research project funded by the National Research Council of the Philippines.