Thursday, November 02, 2006

Arachnophobia

As much as I love Florida, it does have one disquieting feature: larger than life insects. I'm not afraid of reptiles and most bugs, but spiders throw me into fits. I don't mind the small, harmless sort, but the gigantic, hairy, dagger-fanged behemoths that make their home in the Sunshine State are enough to scare a hard-core entomologist.

I never see any around our house because Duloc Manor is sprayed by Terminix regularly. That's not done so much for the spiders as for the optimistically tagged "palmetto bugs" (that's roaches to the rest of the nation). We don't have any roach-like critters in our house, and if I have my way we never will.

But I ride my horse, Figment, regularly in Lake Louisa State Park, and it's a haven for huge, hideous arachnids. We used to have some pretty large ones in Chicago, particularly the hairy, pointy legged basement spiders that would actually run at you if you tried to send them to Arachnid Heaven with a roll-up newspaper. But those look like circus midgets compared to their Floridian counterparts.

The state park spiders build their webs in trees, often between branches that spread across the riding trails. Supposedly they are banana spiders; not the poisonous South America variety, but a "harmless" species with venom that won't cause more than a welt in human victims. They may be harmless, but they're freakin' big! Huge! To get an idea, use Google Images and you'll find a photo of someone holding a cigarette pack up to a banana spider web. It's eight-legged occupant is easily as large as the pack.

In a way, I'm glad that the state park is infested with spiders, as they eat the other, more annoying insects. Unfortunately, they also like to block some of my favorite trails, particularly the ones with standing water (which much draw more bugs). This means that I must knock down their webs with my fly whisk in order to pass. The spiders are bold and stand their ground in mid-web, even as the Stick of Doom descends. I doubt that it harms them, but I'm sure they're pissed that I ruin hours of web-spinning in one fell swoop.

Every now and then, I won't see a web until it's almost too late. The spiders always seem to perch right at eye level, so if you don't duck in time, you stand a good chance of winding up with a creepy crawly on your face. My worst nightmare! Luckily, up until today I've always managed to duck at the last minute.

But this afternoon I was sleeping at the switch; Figgie and I had been on a four-hour ride to the South Trail, and we were both on autopilot as we headed back to the barn. Suddenly, whap! I didn't see the spider web and its horror-movie-sized occupant until a split second before it struck me in my face!

I immediately started writhing and screaming and batting at my face. Thank goodness Figment is a laid-back horse (and I'm sure the exhaustion of an hours-long ride didn't hurt). He just plodded along, ignoring my hysterics. Finally he realized that something was going on and politely stopped until I could pull myself together.

In the midst of my hysteria, I realized that the spider was actually stuck on my sunglasses. Thank goodness he wasn't touching my precious facial flesh! All I had to do was toss away the glasses and I would be safe from the Fangs of Terror. I chucked them off to the side of the trail and immediately brushed off the rest of my body, just to be safe.

When I had calmed down, I dismounted to retrieve my sunglasses. Figment was still calmly taking it all in, so I allowed him to graze as a reward for not dumping my panicky butt in the sand. I found the glasses, which were thankfully sans spider, and dragged my carcass back up into the saddle. There were no more close calls, but my skin was still crawling with the memory of my traumatic encounter.

Oh well, as yucky as the spiders are, I'll take Florida's sunny winters any day; an occasional creepy crawly in the face is well worth the payoff.

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2 comments:

Garry said...

Barb:

I know the terror of which you speak. I have had it happen to me while riding my bike. Banana spiders are indeed huge and their bite is painful. Another type of spider that one can encounter while walking is the crab spider. it is tiny compared to a banana spider, but their webs seem to always be at eye level. I'm not scared of many creatures, but a spider in my face gives me the creeps.

Natalie said...

Oh, that is GROSS! I am cringing in my chair for you!!

I used to train event horses in Gainesville, and I did my conditioning work on some wonderful trails through oak forest - which banana spiders love. I got really good at ducking down alongside my horse's neck while galloping flat out, to get under the webs.

I never heard that they bite, though! That's amazing, considering I practically grew up in central Florida woods.