The Brazilian Wandering Spider

In 1950, Winston Churchill said, “Oh, to be a wandering spider, sitting amidst a bunch of bananas in the Brazilian sun…

These words are as true now as they were when I falsely attributed them to Churchill, some twenty seconds ago. The Brazilian Wandering Spider is probably one of the happiest arachnids in the animal kingdom. It has the coveted title, “Deadliest Spider”. The title does not come with a tiny belt or a trophy; but, it does give a spider plenty of street-cred. The venom in the sac of the average Brazilian wandering spider can kill over two hundred and fifty mice—although not all at once. The death rate from the bite of the Brazilian wandering spider is a chilling less than one percent. It is the world’s deadliest spider in the same way that the world’s deadliest crayon is sienna brown…

The Latin name of the Brazilian Wandering Spider is Phoneutria. The animal’s span is about five inches if you include the legs; and, let’s face it, you aren’t likely to see one without legs. Its body is brown, with a darker shade on its abdomen. Its legs are multi-colored, all the colors brown as well. If the Phoneutria bought shoes, it would have no trouble finding a color that coordinated with its body; however, its lack of toes makes the whole idea pretty ludicrous. The spider’s venom is a potent neurotoxin and extremely painful, due to high levels of serotonin. This can be beneficial if you are lost in the South American jungles without your antidepressants: Simple eat a Brazilian wandering spider. If you don’t feel better after one, repeat until the world seems a rosier place.

Where do you find these “Prozac of the animal kingdom”? In bunches of bananas, obviously; in fact, many of these arachnids have won free trips to North America, simply by napping in a banana grove. The problem isn’t as large in the United Kingdom, because they haven’t found a way to effectively can bananas. In April 2005, a British chef was bitten by a phoneutria; however, he managed to recover quickly and, within a week, he was back at work, boiling most of the flavor out of meats and vegetables. The spider was released onto the grounds of the hospital, where it could freeze to death humanely. Certainly, if you see ANY spider in a bunch of bananas, do not try to reason with it. Gently encourage the animal to become a fine pulp, using the heel of your shoe.

If you wondered what the web of the phoneutria looks like, you don’t know phoneutria. These spiders don’t spin webs, relying instead upon hunting. The Brazilian wandering spider WANDERS the floor of the Amazon jungle, in search of food and trouble; hence the component of “Brazilian” in the phoneutria’s name. I don’t know where the “wandering” part comes from, but I suspect that it was the name of the animal’s discoverer. Phoneutria is very fast, compared to its prey; however, they are far slower than bovines, deer and even four-cylinder economy cars. The Brazilian wandering spider tends to eat crickets, mice and lizards—although seldom mixed together in a large bowl.

The mother phoneutria carries its young on its back. A lot of spiders do this, so the phoneutria shouldn’t be smug. The Brazilian wandering spider grows until it no longer is capable of changing size, at which point, it doesn’t get any larger. This was proven by an exhaustive experiment by the United States Army. The original intent of the study was to determine the feasibility of using the deadly spiders as French teachers; however, after the Vietnam War, there was no more need for French teachers in the United States Army; consequently, researchers were forced to pit the three hundred thousand spiders that they had, against one another in a terrific battle-royale. The winner was freeze-dried and presented to author Saul Bellow for his book Herzog