Creature of the week, arachnophobes look away

THIS week’s choice might give some readers the heebie-jeebies, but it is perhaps among the more impressive beasts prowling our back yards.

The word ‘tarantula’ is typically associated with giant, hairy, bird-eating monstrosities from the tropics, although the term was originally applied to the southern European species Lycosa tarantula, discovered near the Italian city Taranto.

Its Spanish relative, Lycosa hispanica, is the largest arachnid inhabiting the Iberian Peninsula and belongs to a group commonly known as wolf spiders, so named because they actively hunt and run down their prey.

It is fearsome-looking, about 6-7 cm longif its legs are included, but is not aggressivetowards larger animals, including humans, tending to beat a hasty retreat.

During daylight the spider resides in its burrow, which may be up to 30 cm deep, where itlurks near the mouth to ambush passing prey, although males also emerge at night to hunt insects, slugs and even larger quarries such as lizards.

In the unlikely event that you suffer a bite, which is no worse than a bee sting, you may wish to shake off any ill effects by performing the Italian Tarantella dance, which was traditionally believed to be the only cure.

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