'It's very big, fast and angry... and it came with my online shopping'

Zoo experts stumped after woman hands in mystery spider species

Online shopping will never be entirely risk free, but even the most diligent of retailers is unlikely to warn against the possibility of your goods arriving in the company of a giant hairy tarantula.

Yet that was the tale told by a mystery middle-aged woman who arrived at Chessington Zoo, south-west London, holding a gift box with the terrifying arachnid angrily scurrying around in the bottom.

"She didn't want to leave any details," said Rob Ward, one of the zoo's spider experts, who met her when she arrived with the package. "She said she'd bought something online, and when it arrived she'd spotted something in the bottom of the box, and she didn't want to keep it. We don't know what the product was, or where she ordered it from."

Several months later, and after consulting a range of spider experts, Mr Ward and his colleagues still don't know exactly what type of spider it is. "It's very fast, it's very aggressive, and it's very big," he said.

"We think it we think it might be an African species, some kind of baboon spider. They're typically large and aggressive. At first we thought it might be a feather leg baboon, but we've ruled that out. It's not hairy enough."

There are at least 49 different species of baboon spiders, among around 900 different types of tarantula.

In the wild, baboon spiders will feed on crickets, as well as small mammals and lizards. This one is being fed on insects, and spends most of its time in its enclosure – a large sweet jar – though not always.

"We've had to chase it round the office a couple of times," said Mr Ward. "It is very fast." The spider hasn't been named as yet, though the range would be somewhat limited as they don't know if it is a boy or a girl. As they don't know how poisonous it is, they can only handle it using huge gloves, which prevent them from manipulating it in such a way as to find out its gender.

A number of tests can be performed on the spider to discover its exact type, and where it is likely to have spent its life, but these can only be performed after the spider dies. Baboon spiders can live anywhere from three to 10 years. Based on its size, this one is likely to be a couple of years old, so it may have some time to go.

In the meantime, it busily makes its web around some sticks that have been placed in with it, but spends most of the day hiding, and only comes out for food. It hasn't been put on display in the zoo yet, not least because zoo staff wouldn't know how to label it.

Nor, thankfully, will it form part of the spider phobia workshops that the zoo are beginning in November. "We find it is that creeping movement that most frightens people," said Mr Ward. "Then there's the fangs, the venom, that they can just drop down from anywhere, and movies like Arachnophobia don't help."

Rather less terrifying are the 200 tiny Fen Raft spiders staff at the zoo have also been rearing as part of a national conservation project to try and stem their decline. The tiny creatures are being kept in individual test tubes.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
science
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power