The Cause and Effect on the bite of Selenocosmia lanipes.
British Tarantula Society 1999

During the time spent researching my first attempt at publication I found my self In the rather curious position of being in possession of a multitude of rather dull brown spiders all claiming to belong to either the genus Selenocosmia or Haplopelma. It seemed that the very fact that I was known to be researching the tarantulas of South East Asia meant that I was offered anything that had the remotest chance of hailing from the region. I was of course wary, of such an unlikely scenario. After all there are those who would seek to take advantage of a fellows craving. At every turn I seemed to acquire specimens of spiders that, to my knowledge, have never been commercially collected.

It is certainly true that there are long departed specimens sitting in alcohol on dusty museum shelves but the spiders that came my way were most certainly alive ! This troubled me. Selenocosmia is virtually unknown in captivity. Their extreme aggression and dull integument makes them unpopular with the pet trade and as a consequence they have become something of a collectors animal. My first specimen of this enigmatic genus came to me many years ago through the now long gone and I hasten to add sadly missed Entomological Livestock Supplies. It was at a time when Ian Wallace was selling up and he had very few spiders left. I visited the shop and purchased an adult Selenocosmia lyra. She was to say the least a "little lively". I would add at this point that this spider was to have a profound effect on me and my passion had begun. I did not see another specimen of this genus for some years and even then they were small spiderlings. I was concerned that these spiderlings were again not what they appeared to be. Recently there has been much interest shown in South East Asia and many hobbyists, myself included, have taken the opportunity to visit for themselves this magnificent paradise.

Today Selenocosmia are turning up with more frequency and a number of species are beginning to appear at shows. It is with deep sadness that I find spiders at shows being offered under the Selenocosmia banner, particularly by dealers who should know better. There are however a few specimens floating around if you know were to look


One such species is Selenocosmia lanipes. This spider is typical of the genus. Although not a large spider (approximately 4 inches) it is never the less a formidable beast. I already possessed two sub adult females and was thrilled to be offered two adult females by Carl Portman. (That well known purveyor of fine arachnids) They were indeed fine specimens and as we chatted over them he informed me that he also had in his collection an adult male of the same species. Male Selenocosmia are extremely difficult to find in captivity. I was overjoyed. I had sought such a beast for many years and to be offered a freshly moulted specimen was a real bonus. I duly installed the male into my collection and awaited signs of sperm web production. Angela and I were keen to mate the spiders as we were due to fly out to Borneo within days and we feared that the male would not last until our return. On the evening of the 9th June 1999, we decided to attempt a mating. The male was slightly smaller that the female and his integument was one of dull chocolate brown although he did possess the typical black femurs. He was contained in a small round plastic tub although this did not seem to mar his ardour and he was extremely active.

The previous day we had fed both females and at 9.00pm we settled down to mate the spiders. Angela removed the male from his container by opening the lid and allowing him to leave on his own accord. He immediately moved over towards the female. She was installed in a slight hollow and was inactive. The male made no attempt at drumming and we feared for his safety as he stood on top of the female. He remained in this position for some fifteen minutes and then wandered off. The female during this time had remained completely still and neither had shown any aggression. It was decided to remove the male. Our normal method of removal is to use a cricket tub and on this occasion we felt no need to deviate. As Angela attempted to remove him he made frantic dash between the lid and the tub. We believe that we had startled him rather than annoyed him and as he ran across Angela's hand he settled on her wrist. I would point out that in Nineteen years of keeping spiders neither Angela or myself have ever been bitten or lost a male during mating. Further more it is Angela's  practice to wear long sleeved shirts when moving tarantulas however on this occasion whether it was the excitement of the holiday prospect or the thought of finally finding a male she had forsaken her sleeves and was wearing a T-Shirt.

The male sat precariously atop Angela's arm and then flexed. If one has ever seen a tarantulas feed on a cricket an idea of the movement can be imagined. The spider slowly tried to gather up its imaginary prey and sank its fangs slowly into Angela's arm. I was amazed at Angela's response to the bite. She coolly remarked that she had been bitten. I confess that I at first disagreed.( I suppose on reflection she would have known). I felt that after such a bite there should be some initial pain. The male then ran up the remainder of her arm and onto the back of her shoulder. I quickly recaptured him with a cricket tub. The male showed no aggression and in hindsight we felt that the bite was not of a malicious nature and merely a feeding response on feeling the pulse. I placed the incarcerated male on a nearby table and as we both sat and stared at Angela's arm we both felt apprehension at the thought of what may happen next. Within two minutes the immediate area of the puncture wounds had swollen to two small raised lumps. After five minutes the area around the bite had become white and about the size of a ten pence piece. The bite area was sensitive but no acute pain was felt. Angela remained calm. As the pain began to increase Angela decided to lie down. Unfortunately this was not a good idea and the pain seemed to become significantly worse .Angela sat upright and as still as possible. The time from bite was now twenty minutes.

The forearm was now bright red whilst the bite area remained white and raised. Angela described the sensation as " being stung by a thousand nettles". The pain was specific to the bite area although the whole forearm had become highly sensitive and difficult to move. Movement of the hand sent sharp shooting pins across the arm. The pain at this time was becoming unbearable. This pain continued throughout the night and was interspersed with spasms in the thumb and fingers. Bathing the area with warm water offered some relief but when cold water was applied a burning sensation ensued rendering this form of relief impracticable. The only way to take ones mind from the pain was to pace up and down. This went on all night whilst T sat awake offering what little advice I could give. By daylight the area was so sensitive that she could not stand to touch it. The shooting pains in hands and fingers still persisted. At 1.00 pm we acquired some anti-histamine tablets from the local pharmacy. These were called "Piriton " which is chlorpheniramine a drug used to treat a variety of allergy's including Hay fever! and after administering them Angela fell into a deep sleep that lasted some four hours. On awakening the area was still bright red although the pain had subsided a little. Within two hours the sensitivity had almost receded and the spasms had ceased. As time passed the redness and sensitivity began to disappear and within two days all traces of this nightmare had gone. What then are the lessons that should be learnt from Angela's experience.

1. Never become complacent when dealing with fast aggressive tarantulas.

2. Never work with such tarantulas if you are tired.

3. Never attempt to mate tarantulas alone.

4. Don't panic. We believe the calm and cool way in which Angela handled the situation probably helped to slow any reaction down. Snake experts will tell you that a bite from a venomous snake is best handled calmly to decrease the speed of any venom movement.

5. Do not deviate from the norm. Angela made the mistake of wearing only a T-Shirt

6. Keep a supply of Anti-Histamine tablets to hand. I believe had I administered them earlier Angela's pain would have subsided quicker.

Although this incident was potentially dangerous it is important not to over play the effect of such a bite. Selenocosmia are considered to be one of the fastest and most aggressive of all tarantulas. Very little is known regarding the potency of their venom although it is considered by many to be one of the most toxic. Angela is alive, thankfully, to tell the tale, although I wouldn't recommend that you put your finger in with an aggressive tarantula to prove me wrong.

Ray and Angela Hale (BTS) October 1999