Giant cave spiders found down malodorous hole

A photo story for your entertainment. On a training day this week, The Ranger and his colleagues discovered a small hole in the ground near a little-used public footpath; on investigation the hole led to an intriguing tunnel.

A hole in the ground

A hole in the ground… but what’s inside?

Imagining himself too sensible or, perhaps more honestly, acknowledging himself a little more portly than his companions, The Ranger declined to go down – but when they returned with tales of massive spiders, his interest was kindled. On examining the photos they brought back he was delighted to identify Meta menardi, the cave spider, a fairly common but hardly-ever recorded spider which lives almost exclusively in complete darkness, and so is rarely seen and often thought of as very rare. So, the next day, armed with camera and slightly more appropriate gear, he arrived on site and prepared to enter the grotto.

Preparing to descend

Preparing to descend

The first thing that he noticed was a tiny rocky tunnel with water in it, and a nice plastic bag floating there, too. The second thing was the smell – that place stank.

A plastic bag in a hole

The Ranger was glad he’d shed all his jumpers and fleeces, and was wearing his slippery Barbour oilcloth coat, as he then had crouch, walking bent-kneed in Groucho Marx-style, to squeeze down the tiny, slimy tunnel, splashing through the stagnant water. You’ll probably have spotted that he also swapped his normal hat for a more expendable one! Manipulating both the torch and the camera was a challenge, but whilst doing that he spotted a tell-tale sign of Meta menardi – the characteristic egg sac suspended from the ceiling, on a stalk about 20mm long:

Meta menardi egg sac

Stunning! After dropping one torch into the filth and having to retrieve it with his bare hands, The Ranger finally came face to face with his quarry – the slow-moving gentle giant of the UK spider world; with a body about 15mm long, and a awesome leg span of about 60mm (more than two inches).

Meta menardi (c) Karl Dyson

Meta menardi (c) Karl Dyson

On further inspection, there were probably a dozen mature specimens, and probably some immature ones. The Ranger gazed at these cave-dwellers in wonder. What a treat!

Emerging

Eventually, the stench and crouching became too much, and the spell was broken. The Ranger had to reverse clumsily away from his new spider friends and re-enter the real world. He was delighted with the success of his mission. But there was one task remaining!

That smells!

That smells!

The spiders probably don’t get many visitors, but some passer-by had let a plastic bag fall into their cave, and The Ranger brought it out as mitigation for having disturbed the silent darkness. He emptied the filthy water from the bag, and found it to be one of the rankest-smelling objects he’d ever encountered. It didn’t help that he was covered in the slime himself, either. Far from the nearest bin, he had to carry the reeking bag at arm’s length back to the car park, shunned by his companions. At last he was able to pay his debt to the spiders, and put the bag in a bin; then the party could retire to the pub to sip restorative shandy and boast about the size of ‘the ones that got away’…

21 thoughts on “Giant cave spiders found down malodorous hole”

  1. Hi. I have just bought a new house and have a colony of cave spiders living under my lounge floor. There are loads of egg sacks. Also they are living down the coal shute. I really dont mind spiders but would prefer them to be some where else. Any ideas how i can get them moved. Of course i dont want to harm them!!

    The Ranger responds: moving them will almost certainly mean the end for them – they just do not live anywhere except total darkness. So probably you’d best either clear them out and accept the karma that comes with that, or live with them safe in the knowledge they will never ever come up and bother you.

  2. Yesterday evening I joined a ghost hunt in Fort Horsted, Chatham. We were warned about the Cave spiders as they had a “vicious bite as painful as a wasp”. After that all thoughts of ghosts went out of my mind. I record the flora and fauna in the Horsted Valley (which I send on to the Kent and Medway Biological Records at Brogdale) and all I could think of was to get a photograph of the spiders. I was in luck – there were ventilation shafts everywhere in the fort – and this splendid spider graced one by building its web right in the centre. Someone kindly held held a torch for me while I snapped it. Another spider for my records!

  3. I work in a cave (The above mentioned Smugglers caves!) and we have quite a colony of European cave spiders living in the tunnels and caverns. Some of them are HUGE, I found one today and it was one of the biggest spiders I have come across and it was guarding a sizable egg sack too! We had a little sort out in one of our stock rooms near the cave entrance and in one of the abandoned alcoves we found loads of the beauties. There were individuals of a wide variety of sizes and one was clearly a very mature spider, there were so many I lost count. They had a constant and steady supply of woodlice and bugs so hopefully the population will sontinue to thrive! You managed to get a great photo! We also have a small population of false widow spiders living in the monks walk (the tunnel leading down to the main caverns). The BBC have recently visited to do a piece about the spiders for the One Show, which should be airing in september sometime.

  4. I think I know why they have smooth, not hairy bodies. It is because if these cave spiders were hairy then moisture would get trapped in their hairs, weighing them down.

  5. There’s a colony of these lil guy’s in St. Clements caves (AKA smugglers adventure) in Hastings. A friend of mine used to work their as a tour guide and asked me to come see some “scary ass” spiders. I like spiders myself and keep tarantulas but there was something that makes the hair stick up on the back of your neck when you look up and see what must be hundreds of spiders just hanging from the roof of the cave. It was a truely impressive sight though and luckly they’re not on the main tour route so wouldn’t be disturbed much.

  6. Cox’s Cave at Cheddar is great for these. It hosts a colony of well over 30 individuals. Ask the cave guide at the end of the ‘Crystal Quest’ to point them out to you. Most of them live in fear of the spiders anyway!

  7. You never know Gemma………….You might get a chance to have a whinge at the “maker” of them at one time in your life………….:-)
    We were sat sitting watching Autumn Watch two years ago and got bored, we then saw two spiders in our stone built fire place, a Spindly spider and another called “legless” coz he only had five legs………Look, wimen are allowed these silly thoughts ok? I got to live with her, not you…….Anyway, the Spindly was protecting its nest/web while Legless was trying to get under the stones in the top of the fire place, a fine battle of wits it was for about 2 hours till Legless got miffed and wandered away to another section of the fire place and crawled under there.

    John

    John

  8. i absolutely h8 spiders they r horrible creepy eight legged frieks that should never should of been invented YUCK!!!!!!!!!!!!
    LUV GEMMA X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X XX X X X X X

  9. Thanks for for the link to this page. I believe you are right – I think I have seen one of these beauties with its egg sack.

    For others reading this blog – Naturenet has kindly identified the spider in the photograph on the web page I am sending with this message.

    I saw it at Dolaucothi Gold Mine near Llandovery in Wales. I think it was a much more comfortable experience than Naturenet’s, too!

  10. I WAS RECENTLE CAMPING IN ROTHBURY IN A CAVE AND THER WAS LODS OF GAINT CAVE SPIDERS ON THE CELING AT THE BACK OF THE CAVE AT FIRST THEY FREAKED ME OUT BUT AFTER A COUPLE OF SPLIFFS I BECAME QUITE INTRIGUED WITH THE LITTLE FELLAS

  11. You can find Meta menardi in the chalk caves at Chiselhurst, Kent – not far from the entrance. There are loads and the guide is happy to point them out with his torch.
    I spent a year or two living in Australia and saw loads of excellent spiders – my favourite being the common garden spider Eriphora transmarina – huge strong webs and a big spider.
    I have to add that I found Australians to be a bit less macho than they claim regarding dangerous species. Suffice to say, when a funnel web appeared on the lounge carpet five Aussies were instantly on chairs, couches and tables and it was left to me – the pom – to catch it in a jam jar and chuck it outside.

  12. I didn’t mean to be scoffing at the size of the spider, I just found it kind of funny because the title is GIANT CAVE SPIDER..and I wouldnt have classed a spider with a 2 inch leg span giant when there are spiders such as the goliath bird eating spider around…Although this spider is kind of pretty

  13. Interesting stuff thanks. I must admit I had never come across Meta menardi – and I thought I was pretty good with my UK spiders. Will have to bookmark your pages, good stuff!
    To those that scoff at size, pop across to S. America and take a look at the Goliath Bird Eating Spider (Theraphosa blondi) which has a typical leg span of 12 inches. We have one in the museum at work, really impressive!
    There are larger spiders in the UK too, male Tegenaria duellica(formerly, and perhaps more appropriately T. gigantea) has a leg span of about 3 inches, is really common in the UK and bits of Europe, and is the fastest spider in the world (I believe).

  14. Yeah I found it very funny too, been from Australia, hilarious 2 inches! If anyone has ever seen the bird-eating spiders in Queensland AUS. you would understand, they are HUGE

  15. ha ha ha ha …. oh my
    “the slow-moving gentle giant of the UK spider world; with a body about 15mm long, and a awesome leg span of about 60mm (more than two inches)”

    sorry I’m still giggling, wow, a whole 2 inches!!! (snort!), “awesome leg span”, ha haha ha!!! You really don’t get many spiders in the UK do you. That would have to be seriously the average size of a small spider here in australia. most of the spiders that you find inside the house are about 4 inches, the big ones 6.

    sorry, I’m not trying to put you down but the hushed tones of awe at the (gentle) giant’s 2 inch leg span was just too much. (snort giggle!!)

    The Ranger responds: don’t sweat it, I’m not offended! :) I’d love to come and see some really big spiders some day, but for now I have to expend my awe on the biggest I can find. The hole was deep, but didn’t quite reach all the way to Aus…

  16. I am mildly arachnophobic too – although I don’t mind looking at them, its touching them that I cant cope with. Worse than that though I am claustrophobic – there’s no way I could have gone down that hole, stink or no stink!

  17. Despite being an arachnophobe, I have to admit that is a mighty fine spider. Glad I didn’t have to go down a stinky hole to see it tho…!

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