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Spider, spider, Causing Frights

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This month our resident Bush Doctor, Dr Ricky, shares his knowledge on how to overcome arachnophobia and helps readers get more in touch with some South Africa’s spider species!

Dear Bush Doctor,
I have Arachnophobia. How can I overcome my fear of spiders? Are the spiders in Nelspruit (where we live), The Kruger Park, The North West, and Durban really dangerous?
Ian, Nelspruit

Hi Ian
Arachnophobia is derived from the Greek word for ‘fear of spiders’. However, medically speaking, arachnophobia is an irrational fear of spiders… so I cannot help you with that. However, I have great respect for anyone who (despite their fears) is happy to be in the thick of nature. I have a friend, Eugene, who suffers from arachnophobia, but he is mad about the bush and is an absolute wilderness fanatic. His knowledge of African wildlife is surpassed only by that of professionals – he’s a walking encyclopedia and can, quite literally, describe the mating habits, lifecycle, visual description and geographical location of each and every organism endemic to Southern Africa, including plants and trees.

Despite his knowledge and love of nature, Eugene is petrified of spiders. I’ve seen him jump from bed to bed trying to get away from a Red Roman ‘spider’ – and the irony is that Red Romans instinctively follow a shadow in an attempt to try and hide. The poor spider was trying to hide in Eugene’s shadow, while Eugene was flapping around hysterically, attempting to get away from the spider.

I am no wildlife expert but, apparently, there are only 4 venomous spider groups in South Africa that we have to worry about – and not one of them is deadly!

THE SIX-EYED SAND SPIDER (Sicarius spp)
Possibly the most toxic, the Six-eyed Sand Spider is allegedly potentially deadly if no medical assistance is available (although there is no empirical proof of this). Fortunately, it is unaggressive and rarely encountered – which is due to its natural habitat being that of dry arid desert / sandy regions, so you’re safe in the places where you like to enjoy the great outdoors (Nelspruit, the Kruger Park and Durban). Sicarius occurs in Northern Cape, Western Cape, Limpopo and Northwest provinces.

THE VIOLIN SPIDER – Loxosceles Spp. (Highly cytotoxic venom)
The bite is initially small and superficial-looking. After a couple of hours, a swelling develops and the bite site becomes discoloured. Blistering occurs in the following days, after which the skin may peel away, leaving an ulcerating wound. These wounds are prone to infections and it’s therefore important to prevent secondary infection from setting in. If left untreated, tissue damage may be extensive. Most bites from these spiders heal without incident, although in rare cases plastic surgery may be required to prevent permanent scarring. Bites usually occur at night when one is asleep. Their fangs are small, so their bite marks are close together. If the bite site is kept clean, most bites heal without complications. Extreme reactions are rare.

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