The Rain Spider - Big, Scary, And Relatively Harmless
The rain spider is a member of the spider family known as Huntsman spiders. This family is made up of some very large spiders, including the tarantula, the giant crab spider, and the baboon spider. In one of the Sherlock Holmes tales, Holmes and Dr. Watson are confronted with two very large spiders, each “the size of a dinner plate”. The spiders, which were quite aggressive, had to be dispatched by several shots fired from Holmes' revolver. There was an urban legend circulating on the Internet not to many years ago about a giant “clock-sized spider” that someone had purportedly seen on a wall. Perhaps whoever initiated the story took the Sherlock Holmes' episode too seriously. We do know than when we suddenly see something that frightens us, it can sometimes look much larger than it actually is.
The rain spider isn't the size of a dinner plate or a clock, but is large enough to scare almost anyone who unexpectedly comes across one. With a leg span of around 3 inches, is certainly large enough to do so. Rains spiders are also rather hairy, like tarantulas. Tarantulas are generally much larger however. In any event you don't want one suddenly peeking out from behind a curtain in your bedroom when you're getting ready for bed, or one dropping in your lap when you pick up a folded newspaper at the breakfast table.
Where The Name Comes From - The rain spider is native to the southern part of Africa. Other species of Huntsman spiders are also found in Africa, and in many other parts of the world as well. This particular species seems to take a liking to people's homes, and will often enter a house when rain approaches, hence the name.
Venomous, But Not Deadly - This spider is for the most part rather docile. While its bite is venomous, the venom is not particularly potent, but you still don't want to be bitten by one. Some have likened the bite of this spider to a pinprick, while others have claimed it is somewhat worse, and can actually make one feel nauseous. The spider is rarely known to bite however, and when confronted it usually acts as if it would rather be someplace else. This spider will bite to defend itself, and the female can become quite aggressive when it comes to defending her eggs. For the most part though, the rain spider is considered harmless to humans, and to their domestic pets as well.
This particular spider does not spin a web. Instead it hunts while on the ground, presumably catching its prey either by ambush or simply outrunning it. It will suspend itself by a silk thread from time to time, but not always successfully due to its weight. If you see one hanging from the ceiling, as they sometimes do, don't stand directly underneath it. The silk strand may break. In most cases, the spider climbs down a wall to get down from above. Because of their size, they have been known to set off burglar alarms when running across a motion sensor in search of an insect
When One Is In The House - If you should find one in your home, which should only be the case if you live in southern Africa, the spider presents you with a good chance to see who in the family is the bravest, once the yelling and screaming has finished. As scary as the spider looks, most people are reluctant to simply squash one, which is a good thing, since given a chance to get out of the house, the spider will usually do so. The main danger is that the spider, in a moment of panic, could run up someone's leg. It probably wouldn't bite, but it could certainly cause a heart attack. Children are taught to observe the spider instead of running from it or attempting to kill it. Perhaps that is to teach the children that they are the one's responsible from removing a spider from the house, while the parents look on.
While there is no evidence that a rain spider can be gently handled in the same manner as a tarantula can, there are images of people who have one of these spiders sitting on them, and these people do not seem to be overly alarmed. It might be safe to assume that having one of these spiders sitting on you would be no big deal once you got used to it, and maybe you could hold one gently in your hand, but trying to pick one up might result in a bite. In any event, it might be interesting to live in a neighborhood where these spiders are present, and hear the screams coming from down the street, or see lights coming on in houses not long after people have gone to bed. One has to wonder who is the most frightened, the people living in the houses, or the rain spiders that just dropped in to see if there might be some insects about.