Huntsman spiders belong to the family Sparassidae and occur throughout Australia.
Huntsman spiders are wandering hunters that use speed, agility and power to capture their prey. Moths, cockroaches, beetles, crickets and other spiders are their usual prey. They do not build webs to trap food, instead simply run it down and grasp it with their legs and fangs. They still use silk, but for other purposes. Silk is used to create day-time retreats, to protect their eggs and as safety lines as they move about.
Many species live on trees, particularly gum trees. They hide beneath the bark during the day, and emerge to hunt on the trunks and branches at night. Some, known as Badge Huntsmen live in foliage and build retreats by binding leaves together with silk. Some have extraordinary camouflage; the Lichen Huntsman (Pandercetes gracilis) sits in full view day and night upon lichen encrusted tree trunks. It’s superb camouflage making it near invisible.
The majority of huntsmen are solitary; they live on their own and only come together briefly to breed. The exception is the Social Huntsman (Delena cancerides) which live in large groups beneath bark. They are often found on dead Acacia trees. Each colony’s core consists of an adult female and her offspring of various ages ranging from sub-adults to hatchlings. As the young spiders mature they move away to form new colonies.
These spiders are venomous but have very mild venom which is not considered dangerous to humans. Most are very reluctant to bite, and will attempt to run away from any threats they encounter. Contrary to popular belief, huntsman spiders do not chase people. They do not see like we do, and cannot see us from a distance. Running down a wall towards us is not intentional – they are attempting to get away. Apart from startling us from time to time, these iconic Aussies are practically harmless.
Australia has approximately 200 different species of huntsmen. The various species are found all over Australia in a wide variety of habitats. They live in the deserts, rainforests and even in the cool sub-alpine zones. Some species are common over wide areas, while others are restricted to small regions of the country. Species not known to science are still being discovered in Australia. One of the most spectacular members of the group was only recently first recorded in 2006, currently known as the Tiger Huntsman. It is yet to be described (assigned a scientific name).
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Below are some of Australia’s huntsman species with their known distributions.
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