Anybody who knows me is well aware of my phobia of little crawling, flying, slithering, stinging, goggas. Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite happy to be in the thick of nature and surrounded by indigenous flora and Fauna. I just have one rule, I will stay out of their way, if they stay out of mine, as soon as that barrier is breached though, I tend to flap around hysterically, beating and stamping, desperately trying to bridge the gap between myself and the nasty little bugger that’s trying to make a home down my top and yes this is generally followed by a spate of inappropriately chosen words, Tourette’s has nothing on me at this point. It’s not a pretty site.

One of my biggest phobias is spiders, big ones, small ones, fat ones and hairy ones, I just cannot handle them. But all this changed after spending a long weekend at Phinda Game Reserve and talking to an extremely talented Ranger, his nickname is ‘The walking encyclopedia’ He can quite literally describe the mating habits, life cycle, visual description and geographical location of each and every organism endemic to the Southern African region, from dung beetles to frogs to leopards and of course spiders.

So after one of our many bundu bashing game drives, tracking Leopard with the Telemetry, I asked him – while pointing at a particular nasty looking white button spider look-a-like thingy crawling over the dash of the Landi – if this particular spider is poisonous and if so, how far should I be running. So Daryle proceeds to tell me that there are only 4 poisonous spiders in South Africa that we have to worry about and none of them are deadly!

Sand Crab Spider

Probably the most toxic and potentially deadly if no medical assistance is available, but is rarely encountered due to its natural habitat being that of dry arid dessert/sandy regions. Ok Check, won’t be going to any dry arid dessert/sandy regions.

Sand Crab Spider
Sand Crab Spider

The Violin Spider

Highly *cytotoxic venom. Initially the bite is small and superficial looking. After a couple of hours swelling develops and the bite site becomes discoloured. Blistering occurs in the next few days after which the skin may peel away leaving n ulcerating wound. It’s important to stop secondary infection from setting in. If left untreated, tissue damage may be extensive. Bites from these spiders usually result in a permanent scarring. Bites usually occur at night when the person is sleeping. There fangs are not large, hence the bite marks are close together. Ok, a little bit of plastic surgery never hurt anyone, at least it doesn’t kill you – I can handle that.

Rumours: There are emails doing the rounds that claim that because of the warm weather and good rains, Violin Spiders are reproducing by the thousands and entering houses. During the night these spiders creep down and feed off humans biting them in the process. The email tells us to warn all children to watch out for these spiders.

Of course it’s all a load of hogwash. Violin spiders do occur in-house but not in great numbers. They are very venomous and very rarely bite people. You need to pull their legs off (not recommended) or stand on them before they will bite.

Violin Spider
Violin Spider

Yellow Sac Spider

The bit is at first painless with symptoms developing about 2 – 8 hours after the bite. It starts ? resembling a mosquito sting, becoming more painful and swollen. Eventually it ulcerates into large surface lesion (up to 10 cm) that will require medical attention. Treatment with antibiotics might be required to treat secondary infections. The wound will take between 2 and 4 weeks to heal but the lesion might take months to improve. In some cases ugly scarring might occur that might require plastic surgery. Once again, this spider does not kill you. Things are definitely looking up.

Yellow Sac Spider
Yellow Sac Spider

The Button Spider

Now there is a huge misconception about this spider in particular. A Button Spider is not the same as the infamously deadly Black Widow Spider. We don’t get them in South Africa, they only occur in America surprisingly enough. The bite of a Black Widow is extremely dangerous and most often fatal, but seeing as though we don not live in America, we don’t have to worry now, do we? Ok, check, will give America a miss when considering our next holiday destination.

Black Button Spiders: The bite is usually very painful and causes profuse sweating, raised blood pressure and restlessness and generalised muscle pain and cramps, stiffness of the stomach muscles, limb pain especially legs, weakness in legs. Although no documented records exist of fatality due to button spider bites, they have the potential to cause severe symptoms with small children and elderly people being at greatest risk.

Brown button spiders: the symptoms occurring after a bite from one of the brown buttons are milder and tend to be restricted to the bite site, characterised by a local burning sensation, which may spread to the surrounding tissue and lymph nodes. The bite site is more evident and often seen as red macular spot or blanched area surrounded by a rash. The condition usually clears up within a day or two.

Black Button Spider
Black Button Spider

In Conclusion: The knowledge that I learnt over that weekend has helped me tremendously with my phobia, but don’t get me wrong, I think I will still go ballistic should a friendly run of the mill house spider run across my hand. I think I’m slowly getting there though, but it will definitely be little steps in a long journey towards an arachnophobia-free frame of mind.

Let us know your phobias or unforgettable encounters with nature.

*Spider venom, like snakebite venom is generally either neurotoxic or cytotoxic. Generally, it is the web dwellers that have neurotoxic venom and the non-web dwellers have the cytotoxic venom. Cytotoxic venom affects the cellular tissue usually restricted to the are of the bite but can be spread.

By: Kerry