Tracking The Elusive Mouse Spider
The very name “mouse spider” conjures up an image of a mouse-sized spider, whose diet includes, among other things, mice. A mouse spider could in fact probably kill a mouse if it had a mind to. It certainly has the venom to do so, but mice don't appear to be on its shopping list. This fairly large spider has been known to kill frogs and small lizards however, though it mainly preys on insects, including ants and beetles, and other spiders. It supposedly got its name from the belief that its burrowing habits resembled those of field mice, though this has been proven to be mostly an old wives' tale.
At first glance, this spider looks somewhat like a small tarantula, although it is not quite so hairy and has a smooth, shiny carapace. The mouse spider, while larger than most spiders, does not fall into the category of giant spiders. Its body size measures from a half-inch to one and one-half inches in length, depending upon the species. There are eight main species and several subspecies.
Large Head, Large Fangs
All but one species of this spider are native to Australia, where they are scattered throughout the continent. A single species is found in Chile, and a few distant cousins live elsewhere in South America. Fortunately, these mouse spiders live mostly in areas that do not have large human populations, so reports of mouse spider bites are rather rare. A bite from this spider usually has the same effect on humans as that of a funnel spider, in other words it is considered dangerous, though not necessarily deadly. Funnel spider anti venom has been found to be an effective treatment in those rare instances a human has been bitten by a mouse spider. One look at mouse spider's rather prominent fangs suggests that at, the very least, a bite from one of these creatures could be quite painful. This is not a terribly aggressive spider, and if it feels threatened is apt to give a “dry” bite, though there is never any guarantee it will choose to do so. The prominent characteristics of this spider are its relatively large fangs, its large bulbous head, and the aforementioned shiny carapace.
Home Sweet Home
The mouse spider's household is an interesting bit of engineering. It burrows anywhere from 6 inches to a foot or more into the earth, though some sources cite burrows reaching a depth of up to 3 feet. The burrow is silk lined. The entrance is usually funnel-shaped, one reason why this spider may be easily confused with one of the species of funnel spiders. There is a second tunnel going from the main living quarters to the surface, which is covered by a trapdoor. This tunnel serves as an escape hatch should a predator start burrowing towards the spider's living quarters. A single burrow usually has two trapdoors. These trap doors are constructed of silk and soil, difficult to distinguish from the surrounding earth. The predator most likely to seek out the spider's habitat is the bandicoot. The spider's primary predators are bandicoots, wasps, and centipedes.
The spider's burrow comes equipped with a security system, consisting of silk trip lines designed to detect approaching prey, or in the case of the female spider, a male spider. During mating season the males usually “comes calling”. When a male has located a female's burrow he will politely rap on one of the silk and dirt trapdoors. The female will open the trapdoor, look the male over, and if she likes what she sees, invite him in. They will then mate. Whether or not the female eats the male later, as some female spiders have been known to do, is not known. What is known, is the female is in most cases roughly twice the size of the male. The female is rarely seen outside of her burrow, giving rise to the possibility that her main source of food is indeed the male.
About the only dangers these spiders face when safely in their burrows is flooding. Since they roam around mostly at night, they are rarely spotted in either the wild or in urban areas. About the only time one is seen during the daytime is during the late summer months, which happens to be mating season. The females stay in their burrows while the males may roam around during the daytime, looking for trapdoors. Flooding can bring them to the surface, as more than one homeowner has discovered. One can have a few of these spiders as neighbors without ever knowing it, although, as mentioned before, the spiders do not often live in populated areas.
Worried? Get A Bandicoot - Unless you live in Australia you need not live in fear of mouse spiders. If you do live in Australia, it wouldn't hurt to encourage a family of bandicoots to take up residence on your property. These tame little marsupials will diligently track down and kill mouse spiders, and take out any resident funnel spiders while they are at it. Besides, bandicoots are cute.