I am homeward-bound along route 50, the road connecting Tokorozawa with Sayama. I pass the motley collection of garages and long-closed restaurants to the field. And just a couple of dozen centimetres from my face, I cruise past one of the largest spiders I’ve ever seen.
This one had constructed a web from the electrical and fibre-optic cables to the ground, a neat classical web. Some kind of orb-weaver, but with a large, triangular abdomen and no colour markings.
“Onigumo?” I ask myself as I struggle to get what photos I can with my mobile phone in the fading light – my cause not helped by the trucks going past, blowing the web and its owner out of my focus point.
Back home, I dive into my recently-acquired A Field Guide to the Plants and Animals of Saitama and confirm that, yes, it is onigumo. The problem is, which one? You see, onigumo (鬼蜘蛛) in Japanese refers not only to a species (Araneus ventricosus), but also to the whole Araneus genus of spiders – that’s some 650 species!! Furthermore, I am unable to find a common English name. (Ghost spider has been suggested, but this term refers to several different species)
The word “oni” in Japanese means “demon” or “ogre”, but can be a reference to size – the largest dragonflies (Anotogaster sieboldii) are known as oniyanma (usually 鬼蜻蜓, but sometimes馬大頭), and the tiger lily is called oniyuri (鬼百合). That said, the bumps on the spider’s triangular-shaped abdomen are reminiscent of a demon’s horns…
A web search indicates that Araneus ventricosus is the most likely candidate. The literature indicates that females may reach 30mm across the body, and my spider would be pretty close to that mark.
They are night-active orb weavers, famous for disassembling their webs every morning and for the speed at which they spin new webs. I must have encountered this one soon after she (yes, anything that big in the arachnidian world is female – males reach just over half of that) completed her web for the evening. She was ready to catch moths, crickets and unwary cyclists.
Meanwhile, other spiders had been in the news for other reasons…
From the Mainichi:
Woman bitten by redback spider at Fukuoka rest home
FUKUOKA — An elderly woman who was bitten on the leg by a redback spider at a welfare facility here was treated with expired antivenin, municipal government officials have announced.
Officials said the 86-year-old woman was bitten in the morning on Sept. 3, and was taken to a hospital in the city’s Nishi Ward. At one point she was suffering breathing problems, but her condition started improving after she was given the serum.
About 30 redback spiders were subsequently found in the area around the welfare facility, and staff exterminated them.
The antivenin was purchased by the Fukuoka Children’s Hospital and Medical Center for Infectious Diseases in Fukuoka’s Chuo Ward in October 2010. It expired on Aug. 10 this year. Staff noticed that the hospital’s stock had expired on Aug. 23 and ordered more, but supplies had not arrived by the time the woman was bitten. A doctor at the facility administered the expired serum after judging that it would have some effect.
“We’re sorry for our lax administration of the serum,” a representative of the city’s Public Health and Welfare Bureau commented.
It is expected to take some time for new serum stock to arrive, and the medical center is asking other prefectures to help out with supplies in the meantime.
Redback spider bites can cause pain, perspiration and nausea, and can leave children and elderly people in serious condition. About 10 people are bitten by the spiders in Japan each year, but the latest case was the first reported in Fukuoka Prefecture.
September 04, 2012(Mainichi Japan)
And the Daily Yomiuri:
Over 100 poisonous spiders found
The Yomiuri Shimbun
AMAGASAKI, Hyogo–Authorities on Thursday exterminated more than 100 poisonous redback spiders spotted near the Inagawa river the day before, police said.
According to the police, a local man spotted a swarm of spiders at about 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture and reported it to police.
Police officers rushed to the scene and found more than 100 spiders inside a drainage pipe in a river wall about five meters high located along a walkway.
Officials of a local health center later confirmed the spiders to be redbacks, a species legally designated as invasive and foreign. They were exterminated by health center officials Thursday morning.
(Sep. 7, 2012)
The TV news reported that some 30 council workers and police were deployed to kill the spiders. I don’t know why they didn’t just recruit a couple of Aussies with a can of Mortein each…