As Halloween approaches, many people are preparing for creepy, uninvited guests to drop by their home. But for weeks now, Cape Breton resident Dale Capstick has been enduring nightly visits from unwelcome and very large eight-legged creatures.
“Very frightening,” says Capstick, as she describes spiders the size of a human palm and that run with lightning speed. “We always see them along the baseboard, occasionally crawling up the door trim.”
Since August, she and her husband have seen about three dozen of the spiders at their home in the Nova Scotia community of Coxheath. After searching the internet, she learned they are Eratigena atrica, commonly known as giant house spiders.
“The male and female come out to mate,” Capstick said. “Every night, my husband and I would tour the house and see a large black one and a slightly smaller one.”
She said her husband has killed about 30 of them.
This giant house spider was captured by Charles Andrews of Coxheath. (Charles Andrews)
A couple of kilometres down the road in Coxheath, Charles Andrews managed to catch one alive in a jar. He had no idea what it was until Capstick told him.
“They were coming up from the sink in the laundry room,” Andrews said.
Once captured, the spider soon died and shrank significantly in size, he said.
However, a photo of the specimen was examined by Calum Ewing, a biologist at the Nova Scotia Museum in Halifax. He confirmed it was indeed Eratigena atrica, or European House Spider as it is known among scientists.
“They are quite harmless, although startling in their size,” Ewing said.
Andrews displays the spider he caught. It was originally almost the size of his palm, but shrank significantly after it died. (Hal Higgins/CBC)
Giant house spiders live in many parts of Canada and in the northwestern part of the U.S., he said. Their bodies range in length from 10 to 18 millimetres, and in some cases they have a leg span of up to 10 centimetres.
Native to western Europe, the spiders first appeared in Nova Scotia in the mid-1990s, Ewing said. They are often referred to as “bathtub spiders” because they are frequently found in sinks or bathtubs and can’t climb up the smooth sides to escape, he added.
“People often think they have a spider problem, but really what they have is an insect problem,” he said, explaining there must be a sizable insect population in a home to attract the eight-legged predator.
Once the prey is gone, the spiders will either die of starvation or leave, he said. He added the species could also come into the house inadvertently, such as on a piece of furniture.
‘I was afraid to go to bed at night’
Ewing said giant house spiders build webs in dark corners, but unlike most cobwebs they are funnel-shaped and not sticky. That’s because the spider is so fast it can rush in and capture prey the instant it feels vibrations on the web.
If an infestation persists, Ewing said, an exterminator will usually find a solution.
Since she hasn’t seen one for a few days, Dale Capstick has her fingers crossed that the unwelcome residents have run out of food and have vacated the premises.
“They were very, very scary,” she said. “I was afraid to go to bed at night. I just hope that they’re gone.”