The Redback Spider (Latrodectus hasselti)

Australia – Snakes, Spiders, Bone Melting Heat

Flea has had to do some adjusting since she moved here to Australia. A year ago she was safe in London, wrapped securely in a festive reindeer Christmas sweater. Snow fell gently outside her office window as she pondered her next cup of tea and (more importantly) which biscuit to have with it. Sometimes she might have 2 biscuits, but then she risked falling asleep on the tube on the way home. That’s about as dangerous as life got for her in London, England.

Although she’d visited Australia previously, I think she has found living here to be quite a different experience. She has loved discovering my favourite beaches and swimming/snorkelling spots, but I’ve had to explain that I’m absolutely NOT joking when I teach her how to avoid stepping on snakes.

The Redback Spider (Latrodectus hasselti)

A Redback Spider (Latrodectus hasseltii) found guarding our shoes from flies at the back door. What a lovely chap! Photo: © 2015 Ash Nathens

Her first and most passionate hatred this summer was for the Daddy Long Legs spider. As the weather warmed and they began to proliferate, she went on a frenzy with a straw broom attempting to destroy them all. After a few days of this, I explained I personally tend to leave the Daddy Long legs alone. I like them about the place.

“Why?!” she asked, pleading desperately with my apparent manly lack of general household cleanliness. “How can you stand the webs everywhere? It’s a horrid mess!”

“Well that’s quite true, my love,” I explained, “Their webs are quite annoying. But they do wonders for the Redback problem.”

“What problem? What’s a Redback?” she asked, not at all convinced.

I gave a brief run-down on the Australian Redback and explained that currently we didn’t have a problem because of the Daddy Long Legs. And when, two or three weeks later, the Redbacks started showing up (in shoes & behind the couch etc) she got a decent look at one and she’s been befriending Daddy Long Legs ever since. How Australian!

How very dangerous this place can be was highlighted to us all just before Christmas when my family visited from New South Wales. We were enjoying a stroll down by the beach in a popular area; families with children running about the place everywhere. We had stopped briefly along the waterfront to enjoy the view of pristine white sand and clean surf. Half a Brown Snake writhed furiously at our feet, the other half trying with desperate vigor to squeeze down a small opening in the footpath. What was causing it problems was obvious: its last meal. A large, mouse-shaped lump was prohibiting its escape; the large bulbous shape causing a blockage half way down. After a few moments it abandoned its escape and decided to just bask in the warm afternoon sun with us. Right there at our (rapidly retreating) feet. It wasn’t quite an adult, probably only about 3’6″in length, but at any size a Brown Snake has a bite that requires rapid medical attention. (nb: One onlooker believed this to be a Tiger Snake; he could be right. The similarities in juveniles of some species are subtle, and I’m no herpetologist. Regardless, either of these snakes nibbles on your ankle, you need to get to a hospital).

Brown Snake

Our gluttonous friend the Brown Snake

Last and arguably the most deadly of all: the heat. I suppose it’s like any other climate: if you grow up learning how to cope with it, you forget how hard it can be. Flea has just gone out for a bike ride – granted it’s only a very pleasant 29°C today  – but regardless, one does not go out cycling at 2pm during a Perth summer. She’s tough and doesn’t complain anywhere near as much as she’d like to, but I’m certain she’s also coming slightly unhinged in the heat;)