Middle child was having breakfast when a big spider scuttled across the floor, heading for the table. It was a rare sight. One of our native tunnel-web spiders. It was out of its tunnel and out in daylight (it is normally nocturnal). This is the second occasion I’ve noticed one of these spiders inside our house. This is really not common. The spider was carefully caught in a plastic container, some cover added, and released later that night among some trees and bushes that had plenty of suitable habitat.
The spider was the banded tunnel-web. This is from our endemic spider family Hexathelidae. This makes it a very distinct representative of our native biodiversity. It isn’t just a species or genus that’s found nowhere else- it’s an entire family. Only NZ has Hexathelid spiders. This seems to be a very compelling reason not to kill them when they wander into our house.
So far in the wilderness of Auckland, I’ve come across four large native spider species that people might encounter. None are particularly dangerous. Except if you are say, 1 cm long and have 6 legs. These spiders prefer areas of native bush, but might also range into gardens and inadvertently into houses.
Each of these spiders are much larger than white-tail spiders (and honestly really don’t look the same). They can be left in gardens. If they venture into houses they’re easily caught in a container. They have poor eyesight and can be trapped without much difficulty. Try to release them in areas with plenty of cover.
The Big Spiders
All the photos below have been taken by me, so are local to the Torbay area.
Tunnel Webs Hexathele hochsteteri
In its tunnel
Ranging Free- this is very rare behaviour
Nursery Web Dolemedes minor
This spider makes the distinct silken chamber for its eggs and spiderlings, often seen in late summer or early Spring. It is a large, hunting spider.
Male on leaf
Female guarding nursery at night time
Vagrant Spider Ulidon sp
This large ground hunting spider was photographed behind our house one evening. They seem to be rare and I fear, predated on heavily by local rats.
Sheetweb Spiders Cambridgea foliata
This is one of the most common local large spiders. Normally people find the males wandering in their houses from time to time, as they leave their webs and search for mates. They frequently make the news as apparently, New Zealand does not have large spiders…
I did have an encounter with a female one though this year. After one storm it crawled inside to seek shelter in the sweatshirt I had on my bedroom chest-of-drawers. Both she and I got a surprise when I put the sweatshirt on to go downstairs for breakfast. I felt something crawl on my neck, went to brush it off and found a spider. Who bit me on my neck in defense before dropping to the floor. I recovered the poor frightened thing, put it in a cardboard box and placed it near its web. Despite its large size, its bite didn’t even break my skin.
Female in Web- females have less elaborate pedipalps and much larger abdomens (opithosomas).
Even in New Zealand’s largest city we have native wildlife living alongside us. Our arthropods, and that includes our native spiders, typically have very high rates of endemism. They represent a significant amount of our biodiversity. They can even be sustained in our largest city. While I appreciate that spiders are likely one of our least charismatic groups, they do contribute a lot of what is distinct to New Zealand’s biodiversity. We still have some large and special creatures that at the moment, we are sharing space with. This is in New Zealand’s largest city, something I find remarkable.
There is danger deciding that some native animals are simply not valuable enough to sustain. We have done this before. Early settlers here decided that our native plants and animals were simply not as good as the ones from Europe. The wave of introductions of new species did a lot of ecological damage and generations later, we rue the decisions to introduce them.
At the very least a certain tolerance of our native spiders is warranted. A simple catch-and-release policy for indoor wanderers is fine. More active measures include predator control. Introduced wasps kill a lot of our native arthropods, so destroying their nests when found is prudent. It’s also safer for us. Rat control is also important. Rats are consumers of many of our larger arthropods- who can’t find refuges to hide from them. I’m an enthusiastic destroyer of rats in our property. And so effective at it that my traps are moving closer to borders with the neighbours’ properties in efforts to kill more. And finally, sustaining the patches of native forest around us is going to be important too.