Spiders aren't the most popular of creatures, especially in Australia where a lot of them can kill you (or at least, cause a great deal of pain). But one you don't have to fear, despite its intimidating appearance, is the humble huntsman, or sparassid. In fact, they can help keep pests in your abode under control.
You're driving along and you open the sun visor. You're cleaning at home and bump a painting hanging on the wall. Suddenly, out runs a huge, hairy spider. Australia's huntsman spiders are the stuff of myths and nightmares. But these are also the most interesting of their family, and deserve their place in the pantheon of Australian wildlife.
Huntsman spiders are best identified via their flat, crab-like bodies, large size and long legs, as well as their eight eyes, usually aligned in two rows of four. In terms of colouring, most appear brown, though black or white ones are not uncommon.
Now, why shouldn't you kill huntsmans? Well, firstly, I don't think the poor fellow you squash/spray/smite will appreciate it.
Secondly, huntsman feed predominately on insects and small invertebrates — essentially, all the pest you don't want in your house. There's a reason National Parks & Wildlife classifies it as a "Backyard Buddy".
Here are more details on the huntsman's diet, courtesy of the Australian Reptile Park:
The huntsman eats a variety of insects, arthropods, small lizards and frogs. The prey is not captured in a web but actively stalked and run-down with stealth and speed. The fangs are large and powerful and hold the food item until it is immobilised by the spider’s venom.
That's right — huntsmans don't wait around like other spiders, they're happy to go hunting for their meals (as their name indicates). And, while their bites can hurt like mad, the worst you can expect is "mild nausea and headaches" and "localised pain and swelling." Not great, but a far cry from necrotising fasciitis (which is even debatable in the case of the white-tail).
Still, you shouldn't provoke an huntsman or get close to it. The best thing you can do is leave it to its own devices. However, if you have to move it, use a broom or similar device to shoo it away or, as NP&W recommends:
Put a glass over them if they are indoors, and slide a piece of paper under it to transport your huntsman safely outside.
So, next time you're surprised by a huntsman (they do love warm places, especially car dashboards) take a minute to not only consider the poor thing's life, but also the disservice you might be doing to your household. After all...