oooh, i’m so excited about this one i could hardly wait for webnesday this week.  i’m fond of all spiders and try not to give preferential treatment, although i particularly like jumpers.  but this week, i’ve got a real spider… a big, solid, grunty, hairy beast, right out of an arachnophobe’s nightmares.  ready?

behold, Porrhothele antipodiana, the black tunnelweb spider.  isn’t it gorgeous.  if i ever found one of these in/around the house, i might have to consider long-term, more official spider-keeping as a hobby.  sadly, these photos aren’t mine, but rather those of a very obliging friend in dunedin, whom we visited recently.  i spied a dried-out Porrhothele husk set aside in his basement and asked about it; apparently they turn up in the house every once in a while and he had some good photos of a few recent individuals.  which i, of course, now bring to you.

Porrhothele is a genus endemic to new zealand, with five described species.  it belongs to the family Hexathelidae, which also includes the sydney funnel-web spider, Atrax robustus.  but the black tunnelweb, our lovely fuzzy P. antipodiana, is not venomous, although it can deliver a painful bite due to the very large chelicerae (jaws).  and i’m sure its sudden appearance can be extremely startling.  it can be dangerous to mice, as it happens (although the reverse is also true), but it’s not particularly aggressive or interested in people.  it usually lives in underground burrows with silken triplines radiating from the burrow mouth, but may also build a sheet/tunnel-web above ground (so not just a clever name). hence the incredible spinnerets.

there’s a bit of relevant folklore this week too — P. antipodiana was also supposedly peter jackson’s inspiration for shelob in the lord of the rings films.  shelob’s anatomical inaccuracies (stinger, gaping mouth) are true to tolkien’s original description, so while mr. jackson may disagree with my praise of the fat, sassy tunnelweb, at least i shouldn’t reproach him with inventing imaginary stingers on a spider.

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