Every year in late Summer or early Fall an old and wise spider crawls to the top of a large oak tree in Wright Park and proclaims, Rafiki style, “It is time.” Then all the biggest hairiest spiders Tacoma has to offer find the nearest bathtub, crawl inside, and wait patiently for you to come in, turn on the light, and freak the F out.
OK, no, that’s not true. But you know the spiders I’m talking about and if you haven’t had this happen yet, it’s probably because you live on the top floor of a very tall building with well sealed doors and windows. A lot of people don’t care to learn any more about these beasts than the most efficient way to kill them without getting too close. For the rest of us curious weirdos, allow me to introduce Eratigena atrica, aka, the Giant House Spider.
First and foremost, let me clear up a few misunderstandings. These are not wolf spiders, brown recluse spiders, or hobo spiders (though they are related to hobos and do look similar). Their bite is not dangerous to people or pets and, if given the opportunity, they would sooner run away than try to bite you. There are a number of videos on Youtube showing people handling these spiders with no aggressive reactions whatsoever.
You also run almost a 0% chance of swallowing one in your sleep. Everyone loves to tout the statistic that people swallow an average of eight spiders per year in their sleep but that “fact” is almost certainly bullshit.
Female giant house spiders typically have larger bodies but the males often have longer legs. The biggest ones stand about three inches across, hence the name. The big lanky males are usually the ones you find in random spots around this time of year because they’re out looking for females who typically stay close to their webs.
They’re native to Europe but have found a cozy home here in the Pacific Northwest. They normally live outside and can be found under rocks, wood piles, or anything else with a little bit of space out of the rain. When looking for a good spot inside a house, they often build their funnel shaped webs against a wall in a corner.
Other fun facts:
The giant house spider holds the world record for fastest spider at 1.18 MPH.
Males are known to kill hobo spiders and are good at keeping other spiders out of your house through “competitive exclusion”; eating all the insects before the other spiders have a chance to.
They have terrible vision. OK, this one isn’t fun, but it is a fact.
So why do we so often find them in bathtubs and sinks? To be honest, I don’t really know. But I have a theory. If you start with the assumption that you’ve got at least one of these spiders in your house, it’s only a matter of time before they go looking for either a good nest spot or a girlfriend to hang out with.
When they eventually wind up in your bathroom, there’s a good chance they’ll walk over the edge of a bathtub or sink only to slip down the sides. Because they’re so big, they have a hard time climbing the smooth sides and they end up getting stuck. If you can avoid screaming and running away next time you find one, watch it for a minute and you’ll see that they often just run in place against the vertical edge of the tub.
So next time you find one of these hapless giants skittering around your home, I hope you pause for a moment to consider its circumstances. You might even chose to relocate it to some other part of your house and let it manage your insect population for you. If you get to the point where you’re actually naming them though, you might want to reevaluate your priorities.