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From the pages of 'The British Tarantula Society Journal'

Out of Africa

by Thomas Ezendam


As some of you might now, I have been on a holiday during the month of November 1998. For years I dreamed of going to South Africa and now was the time. It wasn't only a dream trip for me because I am very interested in African baboon spiders but also because I find the landscape very appealing and I like nature and wildlife very much. Of course I brought back a lot of stories but this is one of the more interesting for us spider lovers.

It all happened during the last week. In the first few days of this week we were staying at the AventuraiEco Swadini Resort on the east side of the Klein Drakensberg, near Hoedspruit. This area has some magnificent scenery and even some homed baboon spiders (Ceratogyrus sp.), but this story is not about them. 1 will write another article about my experiences in catching those. The second part of the week we spend in Messina, 12 Km. from the Zimbabwean border. I'm not sure when, but at a certain moment I had a little sore spot in the base of neck on the left side. It felt like a pimple coming up. I remember thinking that it was a strange place for a pimple but, hey so what. The "pimple" got bigger and bigger till it looked like there was a large pea underneath my skin. On Saturday we drove back to Johannesburg and stayed there for the last night in a kind of cottage (we were leaving for Holland again on Sunday evening). In that night the "pimple" apparently had burst as there ,vas a little scab on the spot. Thinking back 1 must say that 1 already felt kind of miserable during the last few days in Messina, but I thought that it was the combination of heat and humidity. Anway, on Sunday evening we flew back to Holland (biggest mistake in my life!!!) and after a bad night without much sleep we landed on Schiphol airport.

I didn't feel to well and the closer I came to home the sicker I felt. The scab had gotten bigger during the night, meaning that the wound was still not healing. I still didn't think much about it. At home I got sick, really sick! I had high fevers, headaches, vomiting and total malaise. As stubborn as I am, I didn't go to the doctor but waited. I felt that if it wouldn't go away after a week I would go. On Wednesday the scab fell off and under it there was a hole of about 2 cm. in diameter and 5 mm. deep! It was badly ulcerating and my girlfriend, Dagmar, started treatment with special gauze immediately. It was then that I started wondering what this could have been...

I remembered that during the first week on the campground in Johannesburg, the people next to us brought me a spider to identify and I looked it up in the book "Southern African Spiders, an Identification Guide" by Martin Filmer. I remembered this lying sick on the couch. Again I looked in the book and started reading. To my shock it described the exact same symptoms I was suffering from. I checked the other species of spiders in the book but there's no doubt in my mind that a Sac spider (Clubionidae) had bitten me. The symptoms continued for the rest of the week. Because of my weakness caused by the bite, I got a bad flue after this. The wound only started healing after 3.5 weeks.

Sac spiders.
Sac spiders belong in the group of Clubionidae. There are several genera present in this group: Clubiona (leaf curling Sacspiders), Cheiracanthium (long-legged Sacspiders), Castianeira, Copa and Graptartia.

Their lifestyle differs per genus and varies from free wandering ground dwellers to free wandering plant dwellers.

Their habitat consists of rural areas, on and under bark., under rocks and stones, on bushes, plants or low vegetation; on flowers and leafs; between fallen leafs and branches; and in forests.

Their body size varies between 4 to 16 mm. They are especially nocturnal.

Their poison is pretty strong, as you might have guessed from the above article. It's cytotoxic. This means that within 24 hours the bitten spot becomes inflamed and swollen. After a couple of days the spot will burst open and start ulcerating. The infected wound would heal very slowly and often a second infection is very likely. Depending on the species the bite can be accompanied by fevers, malaise and heavy headaches.

Clubinoidae are two-clawed spiders that strongly resemble Gnaphosidae (Mouse spiders) but who lack the group specific spinnerets (straight cylindrical spinnerets). Their common  characteristic is their black face and, in Clubiona and Cheiracanthium, the compact body, in creamy colors (light brown to yellow and beige).

Clubionidae have long legs with dark brown to black scopulae. The chelicerae are long, stout and black. Some species have chevron-markings on their abdomen. The eyes are small and all about the same size and placed in two horizontal lines.

In Clubiona leg 4 is the longest, while with Cheiracanthium it's leg 1.

The ground dwelling species of Clubionidae are a group of dark, medium-sized spiders with slender legs. Some species, like Castianeira and Copa, look like ants, while others, like Graptarta, look like wasps.

Sac spiders are free-dwelling, aggressive hunters. They catch their prey with high speeds and agility by jumping them and grabbing them with their long legs. Most species in this group make funnel-webs or flat sac-like webs of thick silk as retreat. Clubiona make a funnel of twisted leaves, grass or bark, while Cheiracanthium, which is often found in homes, makes flat sacks in folds of curtains, behind and under furniture and closets. These sacks are disc-shaped, feel papery and have a shiny appearance. The webbing is very strong. The eggsac looks the same but is smaller.

Due to the fact that these spiders wander at night, they often encounter people and walk across them. Because of their aggressive nature they will bite at the slightest provocation. Bites, which are painless, are mostly found on hands, neck and face and can be recognized by two small puncture wounds about 6 mm. from each other.

Cheiracanthium lawrencei is the species that is most known to inflict bites with severe symptoms (90% of all spiderbites in South Africa).

The ground-dwelling species are mostly found in leaf litter and between rocks and stones in open grassland.

Literature:
"Southern African Spiders, An Identification Guide", by Martin Filmer.


Copyright 'The British Tarantula Society', 1998, 1999

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