Alan's recent post about a crab spider reminded me that I never followed up on my promise to talk about Brazilian giant flattened spiders. True, I haven't exactly been deafened by people wanting to hear the story, but since when did I write things that other people wanted to read? Despite the earlier billing, this spider wasn't exactly giant, but it was big by the standards of British spiders. I should also say that, while I'm generally not frightened of spiders, invertebrates aren't really my thing, and I don't like spiders of unknown species and biting propensity creeping up on me1.
My colleague and I had been working quietly on the balcony of the hotel room, when we suddenly saw this big, flat, grey, ghost-like spider. Our first instincts were solidly scientific -- we took the photograph you see above, complete with carefully placed binoculars for scale (the diameter of the binocular is about 4cm). This was swiftly followed by a very non-scientific, big-girl's-blouse moment when we flicked it gently but firmly off the balcony with a long ruler.
A few hours later, I turned my head slightly and saw the same species of spider (perhaps even the same individual, back for revenge!) a few centimetres behind my head, sitting on the wall of the chalet in the perfect position to hop onto my neck. Eeek. I didn't scream, but I did move away from the wall fairly sharply. We stood at a safe distance and looked at the spider, speculating about its unusual flattened body plan, and coming to the unwelcome conclusion that it was perfectly adapted for slipping underneath closed doors. There followed a lot of activity in which ring binders, books and other stacks of paper where jammed into the gap under the closed door to form a spider exclusion zone. I spent the rest of the evening looking nervously over my shoulder at the spider on the wall, not sure whether I would be more relieved to find it still there (where I could see it), or gone to an unknown location.
Now that the memory is several months old -- and the spider itself is safely several thousand kilometres away -- I'd quite like to know what species it is, and whether I was worrying about nothing.
1 Before anyone else points this out, yes, I do know that very few spiders will bite a human unless provoked or in imminent danger of death. It's just that there's something about a big, unfamiliar spider that tends to override this knowledge in a primeval way. ↑