Grande Araña, EEK!!

Despite being an avowed arachnaphobe I’ve lived a relatively sheltered life in the New York suburbs. I have only witnessed the likes of tarantulas or wolf spiders in the glass cases of a tame place like Petco or the local zoo.

A few weeks ago while walking along a dirt footpath outside of town with a friend I witnessed my first tarantula “in the wild.” I grabbed her, peeking from behind her shoulder and yelling a number of English expletives as it crossed our path, alerting anyone within a five mile radius to the presence of a hysterical gringa. I was in such a lather that I couldn’t put my finger on why it looked so strange until my friend called my attention to the wasp that was dragging the tarantula along. It was, in fact, immobile. When I got home I looked up what we saw and was morbidly fascinated and absolutely repulsed by what Wikipedia states happened next:

The female tarantula hawk captures, stings, and paralyzes the spider, then either drags her prey back into her own burrow or transports it to a specially prepared nest, where a single egg is laid on the spider’s body, and the entrance is covered. When the wasp larva hatches, it rips a small hole in the spider’s abdomen, then plunges into the spider’s belly and feeds voraciously, avoiding vital organs for as long as possible to keep it fresh. After several weeks, the larva pupates. Finally, the wasp becomes an adult, and tears open the spider’s belly to get out. The wasp emerges from the nest to continue the life cycle.

Arco Iris

I think the above description now calls for a picture of a rainbow. It was a double rainbow, with another to the right of it. A beautiful rainy season day.

So. Despite the looming knowledge that huge spiders exist in Peru I’ve done my best to pretend otherwise. The spiders that congregate around the door to my house generally freak me out, but they tend to be New York suburban size. Until today.

I returned to the house this morning only to notice a spider the size of my fist (and from tortured research I’ve done in the past looked to be a wolf spider) on the top door frame. One of its legs was stuck in the door, and I can only imagine, in true trauma producing form, that I failed to see it when I left my house a half hour before and upon slamming the door prevented it from falling on my head. If it had indeed fallen on me I think I would have needed a year of therapy. Hoping the spider’s immobility indicated that it was dead (I was dimly aware of the lack of logic here – dead spiders don’t just appear out of nowhere and then continue to hang out on one’s door.) I carefully unlocked the door and then aimed a kick at it to see what would happen. The spider stirred, at which point I screamed and ran across the street. There were Peruanos walking towards me who looked utterly bewildered at this display. That had to be silly Gringa moment #3752.

I had things to do and I needed to get in the house, or get on with my day. The little courage I mustered in having convinced myself the spider was dead now gone, I camped across the street to watch the door swing on its hinges and see the thing stir occasionally. There was no way I was going to remedy this situation with such a creature lying in wait to eat my face. I had a friend on the phone, but I find that my ability to speak my broken Spanish is all but dashed in stressful situations – I finally managed to yell something like “*MUCHA ARANA EN LA PUERTA NO PUEDO IR A MI CASA!!” (I was trying to say – big spider on my door, I can’t go in my house!) and then send a frantic all-in-caps text “MUCHA ARANA NO ES CHISTOSO NECESITO AYUDARME” (BIG SPIDER, IT’S NOT FUNNY, I NEED HELP).

Finally after a panicked run through of people I might get to help me, (said friend was 40 minutes away – I WOULD HAVE WAITED if I needed to) I called my landlady. I must ponder for a moment the virtues of being friends with one’s landlady – and even though I know that to most people this would be utterly ridiculous, I simply could not deal with a spider the size of my fist. Luckily she was quite close and appeared around the corner in a matter of moments. To my satisfaction, she agreed with my estimation of it’s size – HUGE – and after an unsuccessful attempt to reach her partner, took off her shoe and battered the thing to death as I continued to cower against the wall across the street (yes, I checked for spiders first).

I am still utterly bewildered as to why the spider ended up on my door when there are so many in Urubamba to choose from. When I got home tonight there was a small spider running across the tiles – I suppose as a form of therapy, I took out my rage my stomping on it as hard as I could – only to miss, resulting in it frantically running up my shoe. More stomping to dislodge it ensued. This is exactly why I don’t go for the larger cousins myself….

* Mucho/Mucha actually means something like “a lot.” My friend declared he would come to my house and kill all the spiders for me, and while I thought this sweet I was confused as to what prompted this, until I realized I had been using “mucha” all along: a broken version of “muchas arañas” – a lot of spider.

  • Jason

    HAHAHA that’s hilarious! That sounds absolutely terrifying. I encountered my first banana spider down here in South Carolina, and I was mystified at its huge size – but what you’re talking about is a step beyond that! I’m glad I don’t have to deal with giant poisonous spiders – or parasitic wasps for that matter! How horrifying is a creature that perpetrates such horror on another horrifying creature? The natural world is filled with wonders – both beautiful and terrible.

    I’ll just pretend that the rainbow in your picture is arching over idyllic streams and meadows inhabited by bunnies and kittens.

    • Erin O’Rourke

      Banana spiders!!! My goodness, I didn’t know such things existed in the US. And I seem to be getting my spider types confused because I thought that was in fact a poisonous one synonymous with the Brazilian Wandering Spider. They have those down here in the jungle, which is the major reason I fear going – I intend to anyway, but it’s the only spider that actually hunts its prey rather than uses a web to catch it. Due to this they are dangerous to people given they are more likely to cross paths with them or take refuge in places where people might come across them. One was accidentally transported to England where it bit a CHEF!!!


    OMG this sounds so hilarious!  But I totally relate because I have a crazy fear of house geckos and we have lots in our house. From across the room, I scream like a girl and a male in the house trys to catch it, while I’m yelling “KILL it, kill it!”  I actually had one jump on my head as I was walking through a garden gate, so I KNOW they attack.

    • Erin O’Rourke

      Wow. That sounds like a really difficult fear to deal with given they are so fast. I have never managed to get near a gecko despite having tried the few times I’ve seen them in Florida. My family is generally incompetent when it comes to killing spiders for me, but it’s relatively easy to do as long as one is careful…. or not arachnaphobic. ;)

  • sharon

    lmao! this is hysterical i can so totally relate lol i would so do the same thing you are so far braver then me!! i would of been long gone away from that country weeks ago lol …

  • Pingback: It’s been awhile | Erin O'Rourke