Monday, June 18, 2012

They're really quite friendy..

Growing up in Australia you get used to the dangers early in life, most five year olds would be able to recognize a Brown Snake or Red Back spider, and know what to do.
Around here the most common snakes are the Brown and the Death Adder (don’t even ask) both are deadly dangerous but the most common deadly creature would be the Red Back spider.
Because they often kill pets, I kill every Red Back I find in my yard but there would still be upward of twenty in my ordinary large suburban yard.

A few years ago I was helping my best friend rebuild a classic Ford car and we'd been finding and storing car parts for several years to get prepared. It amounted to several spare cars packed into sheds and lean to's all over his yard. (all in bits)
One day while out fishing we found a rare version of this car abandoned in the bush behind some seaside shacks, it had been an upmarket version and held a few bits we just had to have. The owner wandered over to explain the old Ford had thrown a big end doing donuts on the beach, but still they drove it to it's final resting place, nine years ago now.
We asked the question and it turned out he had no problem with us taking whatever we wanted, the rest was going to be added to a Snapper Drop*.
With grand plans we opened the find a major Red Back colony inside and under the car, they were everywhere, many hundreds and big ones at that. Every single thing was bound in web, naturally we recoiled in horror and decided the spiders had taken 'Dibs'**

Over time we discussed all those great parts.
Over time and many several drunken discussions we formulated a plan.
We drove past the car from time to time and each time we saw something else we wanted, a year later we decided to raid the old Ford.
You cant just spray poison on Red Backs, they die eventually but until then they stagger about as drunk biting everything they find, can you see why this might be a bad idea? Fire bombing the car was canvassed…and defeated.
We discussed what we could make as an offering to sate the spiders, a jar of flies? Kittens? small dogs!
Instead we decided on a gentle approach giving the spiders time to move out of the way, they could still have their car…but we wanted some bits out of it ..please and thank you very much.
Double long pants, double long tops, taped at the ankles and wrists and latex gloves for working out of sight under the dashboard, all our tools and lots of lubricants later we were ready.
With a trailer in tow and contingency plans for one of us being bitten (for some reason we didn't plan for both of us to be bitten) we headed the 50 odd miles into the deserted area.

A mere spider capturing a snake? Yes they can, I've found a web with a fresh small bird dead in it. A spider with a web so strong it can capture snakes and birds and a toxin so deadly it can kill a big animal like that fast enough to prevent losing the prey..

I opened the drivers door with thick webs tearing so loud I could hear them, eight or ten large spiders fled across their webs and disappeared under the dash. I started right there by moving the three or four spiders preventing my removing the door bolts and took the first major part off the car. Other parts quickly followed with us constantly jumping out of our skins every time anything so much as touched us, I'll admit I screamed like a girl several times… (a butch girl)
We took out most of the interior including a stint of me laying on the spider infested seats so I could put my gloved hands under the dash to loosen bolts. As I worked out of sight, feeling for the bolts, I knew that I was likely touching some of the many spiders holed up under the dash, I was comfortable in the knowledge that I had two pairs of latex gloves on my hands which they were unlikely to bite through. When I removed my hands many bolts later I was genuinely horrified to see the gloves were shredded with only tatters clinging here and there and my hands were filthy indicating the gloves were gone quite some time ago. I remember looking down at my hands about here, and they were shaking..

We took all the bolted panels and even the motor, with it's big hole right through the side where the piston had gone walkabouts. It was a rare size and yielded a good head, the gearbox was a rare three speed auto so we had to have that…in fact we pretty much wanted the whole car.

Of course this is a real spider!..what are you suggesting?

With a hand winch and ropes I slowly rolled the car off it's spider colony, tearing the webs binding it to the ground, up and over onto it's roof. After allowing time for the spiders to move we started undoing bolts until everything under the car was undone, from suspension to the diff, motor and gearbox, everything. Then we rolled it back over so it was right side up, then back again…
After doing this, all the under car parts were left standing where the car used to be and the car was on it's roof next to the neat piles of parts…easy!
All we had to do then was venture into the calf high weeds and spiderweb fortress to stake our claim for the parts.
With a fair amount of fear and trepidation and a bit more running away when a blade of grass touches you, we did get all the parts from the spiders; packed most of the car into the trailer and headed home.
Before we left I turned the car back the right way over because we'd told the owner we wouldn’t move it or leave a mess.
There were still lots of spiders in those parts of course and we had to kill them all as we stored the parts, even so the little shed they filled became spider infested in no time and we had to be vigilant for years.

After that experience I'm not afraid of Red Backs at all, I've learned that they really don’t want to bite us and when they do it's because the poor spider has been leaned on or touched directly.

*Snapper Drop: in these featureless waters, fishermen make their own fish attracting devices (reefs) with old car bodies, washing machines etc. (now banned)

** Dibs: Placing something in Dibs is to claim it as yours forever...I don’t know!…it just does OK!

For those wanting to try this out for yourselves just email me your address and I'll send you a few in a jar.



magsx2 said...

Hi Tempo,
What a great post.
You and your friend were very game indeed, I would of never have gone back to that car. I have seen a few redbacks but not that many, but a neighbour once found a redback under her shoe which she had left of the deck overnight. I just shudder.

Windsmoke. said...

Yep, i've seen many a redback in abandoned cars and they really don't want to bite you they want to get out of your way and carry on with their spider business :-).

mymandorla said...

Oooh scary... Amazing what you'll put yourself through for something you want!

Current first aid advice for humans is to apply ice to the bite and seek medical attention. I think I remember something about slow moving venom and not needing compression bandage. I think the medical profession has decided red backs are not quite as deadly than they once thought?

Symdaddy said...

During one of my visit to Australia I studied at close hand a red back.

And I mean 'close hand'. It must have dropped from porch canopy of the house we'd rented. It scampered down my arm and onto the back of my hand. I just watched it, never thinking that it might kill me. My aunt, Australian by birth, came out of the house, saw the spider and, screaming about it being deadly, reacted like greased lightning to knock it off!

And I thought it looked so damned cute!

Joe Pereira said...

Australia is no place for the faint-hearted. I'd have given up the spare parts...and run like hell away from the critters.

Twisted Scottish Bastard said...


I wouldn't have gone near that old car with anything less than an ex-Army flamethrower, or maybe a Neutron Bomb.

There's an idea.
Get hold of an industrial X-ray unit and irradiate the whole heap of junk for at least 6 months.

Any spiders in there will either be dead, or will have mutated to such a huge size that the RAAF will have dropped napalm on them from their F-18s, so erradicating the menace.

I'll say it again in case you didn't hear.


River said...

I don't mind dispatching the odd redback or two, but I wouldn't have gone near a fully infested car without at least a full haz-mat suit on.

Tempo said...

Hi Mags, I suspect this is RedBack heaven by the amount of them we have here. Many indeed. We dont leave anything out at night, especially shoes or coats. (I'll tell you a story about that one time)
Hi Windsmoke, You sound like you've seen a few and know how to handle the little buggers. Not that scary when you get used to them.
Hey Spiral, quite right too, the RedBack is no longer considered the human killer it once was, still a worry for the young, the old and the sick though. Ive seen untreated Red Back bites and theyre nasty, covering 2/3 of a limb or more and leaving the limb swollen and black, yellow and red with deep bruising from the toxins breaking down the flesh.
Hi Symdaddy, that pretty much makes you an Aussie now. Every now and then something like that happens. I leaned against a car as I talked to my friends, something caught my eye and I looked to find I'd put one finger on the two front legs of a passing Red Back and pinned it there. It just stood patiently until I realized and lifted my finger and it walked away..limping!
Hi Joe, It's sure no place if you dont like critters, but there are lots of places you can go with no critters..theyre called Hotels.. and thats why most tourists go straight to the Eastern seaboard and stay there. (Goldcoast)
Hi TSB, I like that certain understated way you have there mate. We had compression bandages with us and knew what to do if bitten, the local hospital was 3/4 hour away and has anti venom.
We took a risk but it was well calculated...just like Steve Irwin, did.
Hi River, growing up in the Iron Triangle I knew you will have seen many in your lifetime so far. I dont mind them but since I have dogs I try to keep them out of my yard.

Steve said...

I have to agree with TSB on this one.
No way would I have gone near that car, even if the spiders hadn't been poisonous I would have kept the hell away.
If there had been something I really, really wanted in there (like a crate of gold bars, or something)then I would have gone for the spray option and ket my distance as they died.

Tempo said...

Hi Steve, these are tough spiders, Ive seen them still staggering about after being sprayed until dripping with poison a day later and I'm not even sure they always die. They make you terribly sick but these days their bite is not considered deadly in most cases where anti venom is available.

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