So there I was last week, walking out the back door of the church in Sisters, and one of the children said, "Look at that spider, Jim!" And I did. Wow, it was something! A big powerful looking brute with massive "jaws" and armed with long black fangs. I shot the picture below (I keep my camera with me at all the times because kids don't miss a thing) and sent it to my good friend, entomologist Eric Eaton, who knows everything about any thing with six or eight legs that flies, creeps and crawls on the Earth.
Eric immediately responded and said it was in the Family, Antrodiaetidae, (that's a mouthful, isn't it?) It comes out as, Antrow-deeah-tee-de-ah, which made it a folding door spider, and that rang a bell.
As many of you may know, when I first came to this country, the Sun was a little old tiny thing, there weren't no Moon, and the Big Dipper was a little, tin drinkin' cup; Mt. Bachelor was Bachelor Butte, and there was nothin' between Bend and Fort Rock but sagebrush and trees.
While I was pokin' around making life miserable for the government trappers—who were killin' coyotes, and golden eagles, I got into spiders. (Btw, today we have twice as many coyotes and the golden eagles are hangin' on by a thread, which shows how the government works.)
I went to Arizona one winter to get warm and met a wonderful spider freak named Vince Roth. Vince hooked me when we went out tarantula counting one night during the monsoon season, and I've been hooked on spiders ever since. So much so, that I went off to Australia to live with some aborigines and look at their spiders. The people are wonderful, and the spiders are outstanding, but that’s another story.
One day I started to pick up a large, brown spider standing on a silken tunnel attached to the trunk of a eucalyptus, and my aborigine host, Paddy Huddleston, smacked my hand and shouted, "NO! JEEM! HE BAD FELLA'! Turned out Paddy knew his spiders a lot better than I did; it was a funnel-web spider. Had it bitten me, I would not be writing this column.
About the same time, I was setting up the Nature Center at Sunriver—sans the Observatory. One day, in walks this woman with a glass jar, inside of which is the most interesting spider I have ever seen in Oregon. From first glance, it looked like a tarantula. That really bothered me, because there are no tarantulas in Oregon. Yet, I was looking at a creature that was so much like a tarantula that I thought the books wrong and called Vince.
According to Vince, it was an atypical tarantula of the purse-web spider bunch. Oh, Boy! In Australia those girls have a stout bite with some nasty venom! Turns out our spiders lack that nasty stuff that causes us to go belly-up, but it still hurts.
When I checked the spider books I found Vince's old spider friend Willis John Gertsch, who studied spiders for over 50 years, and classified a number of species. He had discovered, studied and named this trap-door variety way back in the 1940s. But, because of my aging brain, I had forgotten those heady days of the 60s and 70s, and my dear friend Eric brought it all back.
Now to the point of this diatribe, I need YOUR help. Please! Unfortunately, I have never seen the burrow of the Oregon variety of the folding door spider. That's not to say I haven't looked. When I found out who I had in that glass jar at Sunriver, I went out night after night with a tuning fork and flashlight, trying to convince the trap door gang I was a beetle and get them to pop out for me, but it didn't work.
Now I turn to you wonderful people who spend a lot of time on your hands and knees playing with the beautiful plants in your garden. Please don't panic when I reveal this bit of truth, but it is you (or some curious child) who will probably discover the burrow of our atypical tarantula trapdoor spiders.
If you see one, please send me an email immediately: email@example.com. (I'd give you my phone number, but you know what that would unleash; everyone in the selling business would be calling me, along with a few nut cases...
Thank you, dear helpers. Oh, and if you run into a beautiful, big Jerusalem Cricket, please don't panic and squash the poor animal. Unless you pick it up and try to cuddle with it, it will not/cannot bite or injure you. They are NOT venomous, and will not leap up and bite your jugular.
Thanks or your help!
Photo taken by Jim Anderson.