It’s a little-known fact that even the tiniest little house spider can debilitate and paralyse grown men. If said men are arachnophobes, that is.

Oh how cute, he's milking him. SHUDDER. Pic: Graham Gary

People who don’t know better describe arachnophobia as a fear of spiders that is out of proportion to the actual danger.

The truth is the arachnophobe is only too aware of the dangers of spiders, in particular that it’s not just the size of their fangs and the potency of their venom that matters, but how easily they get into shoes and bedclothes and leave their webs where you can walk into them and HOW THEY SILENTLY MOVE AROUND WITH THEIR BEADY EYES ON YOU.

It’s not like those people who are frightened of clowns and balloons (they all float down here!). It’s a perfectly rational reaction to a fearsome and dangerous creature. And at this time of year, they’re on the prowl. The Daily Telegraph warns that as summer approaches the spiders come out. Male funnel-webs, particularly, are running around Sydney looking for a bit of nooky.

My own arachnophobia began as a young child when my mother sprayed a beach shack bedroom for mossies.

I woke, in the dark, some time later with the strangest feeling all over my skin. I flicked on the light.

Dearest, well-meaning mother had disturbed a huntsman’s nest, which had then hatched literally hundreds of teeny tiny spiders which were crawling all over me.

Hours later I was still foetal, fully clothed, under the shower.

Years after that I was on a school kayaking trip and kept imagining something was crawling on my legs, under that elasticated skirt thing that seals you firmly into the boat from the waist down. When we finally reached land I pulled the skirt off and two enormous, hairy spiders spilled out. Cue convulsive shudders.

Now I have recurring nightmares about spiders. The most common one is where my feet are rooted to the spot, then I see in my peripheral vision a spider drop to the ground from somewhere above my head, leave a thick grey strand of spider web.

Then there are dozens of them dropping down all around, creating a little prison of vertical, dusty, spider web bars.

Then they start scuttling towards me…

So don’t say it’s some sort of fear without foundation. There’s one hell of a foundation.

There’s a solid reason that, if I walk through a spider web, I do this crazy wacky manoeuvre that involves both dancing like a frenzied string puppet and slapping myself repeatedly on the head.

When I flick down the shade visor on my car with a long stick, it’s a calculated move based on sound principles and defensive action.

OK, so the time I set the curtains in a Manly youth hostel on fire because fly spray on its own just wasn’t doing the job on a particularly large specimen so I introduced a lighter into the equation may have been a bit over the top…

Still, I got the evil bastard.

Twitter: @ToryShepherd
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    • SydneyGirl says:

      11:38am | 01/11/12

      “Still, I got the evil bastard”

      The poor bastard!

      I am an arachnophile….endlessly interesting.

    • Philosopher says:

      11:52am | 01/11/12

      Tory should understand that most spiders she encounters are probably female. Is her fear based on ignorance of this fact???

    • SydneyGirl says:

      12:47pm | 01/11/12

      I doubt one stops to ascertain the sex of the spider before screaming…

    • Matt says:

      02:45pm | 01/11/12

      Perhaps Tory is sexist.  Everyone else in Australia seems to be at the moment.

    • Levi says:

      03:21pm | 01/11/12

      Imagine if Tony Abbott killed said spider…Tory and Gillard and Co would have their knickers in a real twist.

    • Economist says:

      11:39am | 01/11/12

      I can see why you have the phobia with your story. You could always move to Melbourne or Hobart, they’re generally not fond of the colder climate.

      I used to have an irrational fear brought on by a parent that would scream the house down but then I read up about the little buggers.

      If it’s in the house - a white tail, redback, house black, mouse, funnel web, or wolf, it’s dead. Huntsman, or orb spiders are caught and released. Anything outside the house is left, unless it’s above the door.

      The truly freaky ones are the larger orb spiders that come out in late summer and have webs that traverse houses (once I measured a distance of an 8 metre web) and trees along the footpath that make the nightly walk impossible so the family sticks to the road.

      I use spider webs for shaving cuts. They’re actually very useful little critters.

    • Shane* says:

      12:31pm | 01/11/12

      Don’t you see, Economist?! If you don’t kill them all, the terrorists win!

    • Ally says:

      01:43pm | 01/11/12

      Economist - we may not get some of the huge and scary spiders here in Tasmania, but we still get funnel webs, redbacks and white tails. Not to mention huntsmen. The little bastards like to come inside during winter.

      I remember staying at my grandparents once and spotting an enormous huntsman on the wall. I called out to my nan, who wandered in, spotted the spider, then casually took off one slipper and got him in one whack. The worst bit was the spider juice running down the wall afterwards. Urgh.

    • ramases says:

      02:38pm | 01/11/12

      We get the lot here and some huge ones at that. Was sitting outside enjoying a nice cup of teas a few years ago when I heard my wife whisper that there was a spider on the wall above my shoulder. I rocked forward on the chair and turned to see the largest spider I have ever seen watching me. I grabbed a 2 litre ice cream tub and put it over the thing and its legs protruded either side so I slid a bit of cardboard under the tub and walked over to the nearest patch of bush and let it go. Now my dogs will attack anything that moves but they took one look and scurried back to the house as I did very bloody quickly I can tell you.

    • Economist says:

      03:38pm | 01/11/12

      @Shane* stop giving the terrorists ideas! I can see it now, a Camel spider breeding program with the plan to drop them from the sky Paul Verhoeven style.

      @Ally, Yeah you have them, but as a born and inbred Tasmanian myself they’re so slow.  I fondly remember using Grandma’s outside dunny and running in to tell her about the red back nest, where she’d venture out and squash them all with her thumb. The spiders might breed, but the Taswegians are bred far more fearless.

      Ramases yep the bush has the big Huntsmen. Lets hope Tory doesn’t have woodpile.

    • Laura says:

      11:44am | 01/11/12

      I agree it is horrible having a ohobia that no one will ever get. At least yours is a common one. I have a complete and utter irrational fear of feet, I can-t look at them, even photos of them,  and if someone elses foot accidently touches me I dry wretch. I have no idea what caused it either I just think they are ugly and germy.

    • Philosopher says:

      12:53pm | 01/11/12

      Laura, I urge you to avoid watching the upcoming Hobbit movie, at all cost. Just trust me.

    • Testfest says:

      12:55pm | 01/11/12

      Laura, how do you buy shoes?

    • Laura says:

      01:29pm | 01/11/12

      @testfest, my feet are fine, I also enjoy a foot massage. It is only other peoples feet that I can’t handle. I generally wear socks or buy shoes online that way I know they haven’t been tried on.

      @philosopher, thanks for the heads.up.

    • neo says:

      11:49am | 01/11/12

      I labelled myself an arachnophobe after I watched Arachnophobia as a kid. I really don’t know if I truly have it, I can’t stand all bugs, but spiders especially. Growing up to the age where I could no longer call my dad to kill a spider sucked, but thank God for bug sprays with precision nozzles.

    • Shane* says:

      12:29pm | 01/11/12

      I am the Angle of Death for spiders. Moved into a new place recently, and immediately committed two war crimes - I used biological weapons (two large cans of mortein) and I committed genocide (I left cockroaches and other bugs alone and singled out spiders). Very satisfying to watch them curl up and die.

      Spiders shouldn’t exist. Screw spiders. Ecosystem schmecosystem. I kill every spider I come across, with malicious intent. They might not be any danger to me, but their offspring’s offspring’s offspring might. Kill them all. No mercy.

      And yet, for all my tough talk, if a spider lands on me I freak the hell out…

    • Testfest says:

      12:57pm | 01/11/12

      Which angle is that? The right angle? Obtuse? Acute? Reflex?

      Sorry Shane, couldn’t resist.

    • sunny says:

      12:58pm | 01/11/12

      “I am the Angle of Death for spiders”

      wielding the Protractor Of Justice and the Shield Of Isosceles?

    • Dman says:

      01:00pm | 01/11/12

      So are you an acute or obtuse Angle of Death?

    • Zed says:

      01:09pm | 01/11/12

      You do realise that by killing only the spiders in your place, before long you’re going to be swimming in cockroaches and other bugs ?

    • Shane* says:

      01:17pm | 01/11/12


    • Shane* says:

      02:26pm | 01/11/12

      @Zed. Don’t care. I have no problem with roaches.

    • Philosopher says:

      02:38pm | 01/11/12

      After reading then re-reading Shane*s post in its entirety, I am convinced he meant to write ‘Angel of Death’ not ‘Angle of Death’. Shane* could you confirm please?

    • sunny says:

      12:39pm | 01/11/12

      Hahahahaha do you think mere fly spray will harm me foolish human, I am a spider beast, a steely warrior of the insect world, a colossus of *WHOOOOSH* AAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHH BURNY BURNY DROP AND ROLL DROP AND ROLL

    • Helt says:

      12:40pm | 01/11/12

      I once tore a pec muscle flinching from a spider on its web so Im hearing you my friend I hope you have sa spider free summer

    • Philosopher says:

      01:35pm | 01/11/12

      I’m guessing you don’t work on an oil rig?

    • fml says:

      02:28pm | 01/11/12

      You tore your boob?

    • HappyG says:

      12:55pm | 01/11/12

      Generally spiders don’t worry me. You can step on or swat a spider and you have to be unlucky to get bitten. I had a mate years ago who put on a wetsuit on a surf trip to Crescent Head and unbeknownst to him a funnel web had taken up residence. He was bitten but got to hospital in time but was crook for a long time after.  Apparently they love warm moist places to settle into. Snakes on the other hand freak me out.

    • fml says:

      01:20pm | 01/11/12

      Are arachnophobes scared of spiderman?

    • LISA TURNER says:

      01:40pm | 01/11/12

      The worst part of this story was the photograph.  I screamed and through the laptop.  I am absolutely terrified of all spiders.  I don’t care how big or how safe they are.  Their little beady eyes DO follow me and they JUST APPEAR ON THE WALL NEXT TO YOU.  What’s up with that?  I can’t kill them because I can’t get that close.  And another secret?  I don’t drive because I am frightened that one will appear in my car and I’ll kill someone by running them over trying to escape.  Welcome to my nightmare.

    • Fed Up says:

      01:50pm | 01/11/12

      When a Huntsman crawled on my lap i screamed like a he bitch….there…i said it….....i hate the furry bastards

    • Karen from Qld says:

      02:01pm | 01/11/12

      I remember when we moved from North Qld to Brisbane the removal man who was a man mountain came to the back door a deathly shade of white. He was packing things in the garden shed and had come across the large collection of huntsmen spiders who called our garden shed home. Little old me had to go down to the shed armed with a shoe and dispose of the spiders whilst this huge hulk of a man stood outside in fear.
      I did sympathise with him as I dread frogs and toads so I understood where he was coming from.

    • Adam says:

      02:23pm | 01/11/12

      Best cure for a fear of spiders (and indeed snakes too which come out in Summer) is to be familiar with the statistics. For example, yes, Red Backs have potent venom. However the only reason they’re considered dangerous is they’re one of three spiders in Australia that can *potentially* be fatal. The stats show how unlikely it is - only about 10% of people bitten need the anti-venom administered. Many will not have any adverse reaction at all, others will have something resembling a minor flu but not so bad as to need anti-venom.

    • Admiral Ackbar says:

      03:16pm | 01/11/12

      This is the thing though, people don;t seem to be scared of them because some are poisonous, but because they’re icky, hairy, crawly, called your mum fat or whatever.

      For the most part I’m only scared of things that can hurt me, like Nazis and land sharks.

    • egg says:

      05:13pm | 01/11/12

      Pah, I know the stats, and I still almost kill myself everytime I see one of the little bastards near me. The fear is not based in information, or lack thereof. Phobias are not rational, they are instinctual. I can’t help my physical reaction when I’m near a spider anymore than I can stop myself from needing to pee when I’ve had a lot of water.

      Snakes I’m fine with, though.

    • Jess says:

      02:31pm | 01/11/12

      When I was 6 there was a huntsman in our bathroom on the towel rack. My older siblings made me pat it. So I’m ok with spiders and my boyfriend hates them so I am the one that deals with them (I take them outside). Conversely he gets to deal with the flying stingy things (I’m allergic) so it evens out.

    • John L says:

      02:35pm | 01/11/12

      My dad told me a story once about a job he had on an air-conditioning system. When he pulled the back off the thing there was a clan, no a society, of redbacks infesting it, he carefully walked back to the guy he reported to, telling about the situation. This bloke, dunno his name, just sighed, picked up a bucket, walked back to the system, THRUST HIS HAND IN, SWIRLED IT AROUND AND THREW THE COLLECTION INTO THE BUCKET!!! My dad was pretty much gibbering the whole time. This bloke just picked up the bucket, with its hundreds of spiders and walked off.

      Seriously, what is it with some people?

    • Tony says:

      02:39pm | 01/11/12

      When we lived in Perth, my wife and I came home one evening and went to go to bed. A huntsman the size of a CD was clinging to the wall above the bed. We both retreated into the kitchen where i was called on as exterminator. Spraying the beast until it was white with mortein, i stepped back into the doorway to evade the death throes. It dropped to the floor near our bed and disappeared. We again sought haven in the kitchen until sure of it’s demise. Half an hour later it was nowhere to be found. I took all the sheets off the bed and had the mattress off too. Reluctantly we remade the bed and got in. As my wife went to turn the bedside light off she screamed. 2 hairy legs were appearing out of the tissue box on the bedside table. I didn’t sleep well that night

    • Charlotte says:

      02:39pm | 01/11/12

      Nup. Can’t relate. I kill the odd Whitetail or Redback if they are found inside, the rest are caught and released outside.
      My girlfriend showed me her pet Huntsmen. She tapped on a poster hanging on the lounge wall and 3 of big fat hairy Huntsmen came scuttling out in all directions!

    • HC says:

      03:11pm | 01/11/12

      Huntsmen are great pets, they’re warm, furry and quite affectionate little critters smile

      Also their eyes are just adorable tongue laugh

      I find spiders and indeed even scorpions to be endlessly fascinating creatures and they’re better than flies or mozzies smile

    • Mr. Jordon says:

      03:48pm | 01/11/12

      I usually get the broom and try to sweep huntsmen the outside.

      I’ve had several now leap off the wall and charge at me across the floor. They run a few feet then jump a foot in the air, run a few feet and jump in the air. It’s as scary as all hell.

    • Richard M says:

      02:59pm | 01/11/12

      When we swapped houses a few years ago with our friends from Germany, I made the mistake of innocently advising him to check the bottoms of the outdoor furniture for spiders, particularly redbacks, before using it.  Silly me.  He later confessed that, as a result, neither he nor his family went anywhere near, let alone used, the outdoor setting or BBQ for the whole year they were here.

    • Levi says:

      03:26pm | 01/11/12

      I’d have to say the scariest thing about them is their sheer speed. How they move all those 8 legs with such co-ordination to suddenly appear right next to your foot, whereas 0.25 seconds before they were 3 metres away up on the wall is both awe inspiring and terrifying.

      Having said that I generally don’t kill them unless its absolutely necessary or they are particularly “venomous” looking and they’re anywhere near my kids room.

    • Baloo says:

      05:59pm | 01/11/12

      Imagine them the size of a dog or larger, seeing one of those things zooming around..circling you..

      I have no problems with spiders but damn I’m happy they aren’t too large.

    • stephen says:

      05:47pm | 01/11/12

      I ran over a brown snake on my bicycle on Sunday, and I went back to have a look at it but it crawled away into the long grass.
      Don’t mind snakes, and even spiders i don’t worry about, but the next time you are under a big tree - especially any outside the Cairns Library - look up and have and spot a flying fox, (if you can do so amongst the crosshairs, then you don’t have to read any further) ... they are butt-ugly, and are the scariest things since paul keating’s silhouette.

    • Chris says:

      06:09pm | 01/11/12

      And the bloody article just had to have a huge picture of a spider at the top, didn’t it? Thanks a whole F*&%ing lot. There goes my sleep for tonight, at least. I, too, suffer from regular spider dreams.
      I’m not a true arachno, however—once I know the spider is there, I can get about killing it. For me, it’s the initial shock of seeing one, and the thought that they could be in the bed or under this table as I type (checking now… all clear). A true arachno, I’m reliably told, cannot even be in the same room as a toy spider, or a picture of a spider.


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