The first reaction you tend to have when you come across a Baboon Spider, also known as the tarantula, outside Africa, is one of utter fear. So when I came across several in the Euwaso Ngiro area of Narok recently in a few days, they unnerved me.
The large, hairy nature of this giant arachnid can send chills down your spine. The spider acquires its name from the last two segments of its legs that resemble the finger of a baboon.
Baboon spiders can grow up to 90 MM in body size. Interestingly a baboon spider can regenerate body parts through moulting. If a leg is lost between moults, the spider can regenerate a new one, which appears after the next moult. These spiders take up to 10 years to mature and can live for 25 years.
Despite its rather scary look, the Baboon spider cannot cause fatality in humans when it attacks. It is, however, known to pack enough venom in its enormous fangs to inflict a painful bite. Bites in humans result in a burning pain at the bite site. After about 2 hours, the victim starts to vomit; they show marked signs of shock, become pale, and have difficulty walking.
So even though you may not die from a tarantula bite, you will go through a nightmare and a half of excruciating pain and great discomfort. When alarmed, baboon spiders will throw their front legs backwards and open their chelicerae (the pair of fang-like appendages near their mouth used for grasping and piercing).
Some Baboon spiders are known to produce a hissing sound similar to snakes. Baboon spiders live in holes on the ground, and this is where they also do the hunting as they lay in wait for prey passing over the holes. Probably because of the heavy downpour in Narok recently, most were now running away from their homes and trying to get into sheltered places, explaining why all the ones we saw were indoor.
These scary-looking creatures apparently have a cult following, and their demand as pets have driven them to near extinction. As a result, they are classified by the IUCN as Commercially Threatened. Measures are in place to restrict their collection and transportation these days.
As you may imagine, lacking the benefit of hindsight, the natural human instinct is to flee. Crushing them to death on sight is the other option. I did the latter. Now I am deeply regretting this action. With one stroke of my slipper, I comfortably ushered this magnificent creature closer to extinction!
At least I did stick around long enough to take great shots of them before decimating them. But, of course, had I known I was hastening the extinction of an animal species, I may have acted differently. I will now never know.
Had it been you, what would have been your first reaction? Share your response by leaving your comments below.
Many thanks to Aafeez Jivraj for his invaluable input during the writing of this story.