Fancy Meeting This Character in the Bath
Author: Derek Lambie
Lurking in a ramshakle shed at the bottom of a suburban garden is a super spider set to be crowned the queen of creepy-crawlies. If you shuddered last time you discovered an eight-legged beastie in the bath, you may not want to read on. For the two-year-old female Goliath bird-eating tarantula boasts a nine-inch leg span and weighs in at six ounces - about the same as a jar of coffe It was bred by zoologist Dr. Robert Bustard, who spends much of his time pampering his "baby" in a bid to enter her in the Guinness Book of Records as the heaviest of her kind on the planet.
The Goliath lives in a plastic container, similar to a fish tank, in a heated outhouse at Dr Bustard's home in Alyth, Perthshire. And she is not alone. Dr. Bustard, 59, has dedicated 10 years of his life to raising arachnids - and among his prize specimens are a toe-curling 2,000 tarantulas.
Like a spine-chilling set from the horror film Arachnophobia, the spiders live in glass jars and cases of all shapes and sizes, stacked on the shelves of the doctor's run-down shed.
It gets worse. Dr Bustard also breeds 19,000 crickets a week to feed to his hungry spiders. But the Gollath is served up special treats - lean cuts of tender meat from the local butcher.
Dr. Bustard hopes that before long his pet will outgrow the current record-holder - a Goliath with-an 11-inch leg span found in Venezuela in 1965 "I breed the animals for their chunkiness and I like them to be heavier than they are supposed to be," said Dr Bustard. "I'm about to enter this one into the record books because it is the heaviest female spider I am aware of.
"It's such a beautiful creature and it has such a timid nature." Many of Dr. Bustard's spiders are so rare they have not been officially discovered or registered and have not been named.
Others in his collection include rare giant Pink Toe spiders, a Chile Rose, and an Orange Arboreal Baboon tarantula.
He has even created his own strain of spider, the Airlie Brae named after his house.
"We are not supposed to cross-breed them in this country but colleagues in Germany and across Europe often do," said Dr. Bustard. "I acquire them from friends all over the world and often swap my spiders for theirs. "I started off with just the one and discovered there was so much we did not know about them. They made an interesting research subject."
In yet more echoes of Boris Karloff or Hammer Films, Dr. Bustard spends hours poring over his eight-legged subjects.
He has also worked with snakes, lizards, turtles, salamanders, frogs, sea turtles and crocodiles and next month will be appointed president of the British Herpetological Society.
In spite of keeping daily company with some of the world's biggest and hairiest spiders, Dr. Bustard turns to jelly when confronted with the common incey-wincey kind. "I am terrified of the ones with long thin legs. They really make my skin crawl," he admitted.
Brian Burnett, 25, of Aberdeen, claimed last week that his five-and-a-half ounce Goliath spider, named Tina, would be large enough to enter the record books in the summer. But his bid should be beaten by Dr Bustard.