Your Guide to the Chilean Recluse Spider

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Well hellooooooo summer!! So lovely of you to arrive in time for Christmas, with your 32 degrees of breezeless sunshine and endless blue skies. What’s that you say? It’s going to be a hot one this year?! Thanks so much!

I also take this moment to thank you in advance for the swarm of Chilean Recluse Spiders, locally known as the Araña de Rincón, that will likely start popping up on my bedroom walls.

There is nothing quite like settling down for bed with a quick vacuum and bed shake down. Or the quick “is my shoe empty” check that naturally comes first before rushing out the door late for an appointment. Summer is when all the delightful little eggs start hatching from their cocoons of dirty fluff (spotted happening live on my sons wall – lucky us!). I have lived in a recluse sanctuary for nearly three years now, and every summer its the same old story.  Spider on the shower curtain? Check. Spider crawling past head while reading Pride and Prejudice? Check. Spider crawling out of the bathroom sink? Check. Spider behind baby’s bed? Double check. Actually triple. Make that times twenty (his room is a breeding ground apparently).

Last year it got so bad I started having trouble sleeping and instead started prowling Emilio’s room in the middle of the night with a torch. Like a nutty person I know but it was honestly that bad. Thanks to the Chilean Recluse Spider we don’t have any other spiders in our house because they eat them all, just like all the moths. They are so hungry that the lady even tries to eat the male when they have sex. Delightful. Recluses are the defintion of hunters: they don’t even build webs to catch their unsuspecting prey, they just prowl about at night using 3 pairs of unusually positioned eyes (a beautiful characteristic – have a look). In winter they can go months without eating and their favorite places to hang out appears to be in our bathroom and in the corners of our walls (thank you Luis for never put up skirting boards). They love to hide in the corners where walls meet – especially the babies which are teeny tiny – and down the sides of beds. In fact one of the best tips I can tell you is to move your bed away from the wall!

I constantly read about this Rincon Test, where you bang about to see if the spider you have spotted runs away at lightning speed. In my experience this is just ridiculous because all spiders start to move once you wave a shoe above its head. They don’t always but its true that once they go, they really do GO! Once you have seen one you can recognize them easily: fat body, long legs, usually brown not black, uniquely placed eyes, violin shape. There is really no other similar spider that you are likely to find indoors in Santiago – particularly as they love urban environments and are believed to call 9 out of 10 Santiago homes, home. They don’t always move at night either – if they are hungry they will hunt, simple as that!

Here’s an interesting piece of information:

“Recluse spiders were the first spider group to be recognized as a causative agent of the disease state now known as necrotic arachnidism, and this condition, when caused by a recluse spider, is properly termed loxoscelism. Loxoscelism was first recognized in 1872 when Chilean physicians linked a peculiar skin lesion known as the ‘gangrenous spot of Chile’ “

Time to introduce the Arana Tigre, or Tiger Spider. This wee fella has a skinny, stripey body and really long legs with what looks like dotty joints.  There is no possible way to mistake the Tiger Spider for a Chilean Recluse Spider – none whatsover! This spider is also known as the Long-Legged Spider or Spitting Spider, thanks to a) it’s long legs and b) its method of hunting the Recluse by projectile sticky webs. The Tiger is the only known predator of the Chilean Recluse spider, which bizaarely is a distant cousin on the spider family tree.  Universidad de Chile found out something very interesting: only 50% of encounters between Recluse and Tiger spiders result in an attack and only 75% of Tiger Spiders receive the title of winner, something which puts the Tigers glowing reputation into doubt. They can’t bite humans though so its worth keeping them around if you find one. Here’s another interesting fact for the spider lovers: the Tiger has connected poison and silk glands thus making … poisonous silk!!!

Below are my Golden Rules so that you too can happily (lol) live alongside  Chilean Recluse Spiders. I am sure many of you are wonding how we can live like this, and even though I HATE them I do believe that they have a part to play.  I also personally prefer to deal with them this way rather than inhaling the aftermath of strong poisons, but for those of you who are suffering there is also the option of fumigation (something I probably would consider if I had a newborn baby and new mummy paranoia!).  I have also learnt that you can lay down sticky board traps that catch whatever crawls over them, and for the naturally inclined apparently spiders hate vinegar and diatomaceous earth.

The Golden Rules:

Shake bedding before jumping into bed

Vaccuum often

Move beds away from walls

Check towels, shoes and clothes before using

Don’t leave clothes on the floor

Check behind pillows and cushions

Don’t kill the good guys (Tiger Spiders)

If you believe that you have been bitten by a spider, please make your way promptly to the nearest hospital with (if at all possible) the spider in question. To keep track of the bite, you can draw around the infected area to monitor changes in size and shape. The antedote is believed to work up to the first six hours after contact, but before you panic, not all bites will result in a reaction.  Expect to be monitors for up to 72 hours and you may require hospitalization.

Emergency Numbers: Ambulance 131/Fire 132/ police 133

Edit: in the picture with my hand, the spider beside it is NOT whole. The body is not present, only the head.  As I am a New Zealander (and not an Australian!) these are not what I would call “small” spiders when fully grown either!

Safety in the Big City

  1. NEVER use your cellphone on the bus
  2. Always be aware of who is behind you during busy times on public transport
  3. When you ascend the bus, try to be the last one so that no-one is behind you. Would-be thieves use this time in the crowd when you are preparing your BIP card to grab and run
  4. In crowded places always keep your bag in front
  5. If you are drunk don’t walk alone
  6. When you use a cash machine (redbanc), check that the keypad and the slot where you insert your card is completely secure. Thieves often place fake numbers and card readers on machine to take your information but these are usually not very secure given that they are placed on in a hurry.
  7. Avoid people seeing your pin
  8. One common ruse is to open the car door on one side at the same time as it is being locked so that someone can go in once you have walked away
  9. If you are walking alone and there is a person that you think has bad intentions coming quickly behind you, change direction to see if they follow. If they do, don’t waste time just run. Scream to get attention from people around you and say “ayuda” or “socorro.”
  10. If you are in a dangerous situation, don’t fight just hand over what they want.
  11. When in the taxi (or when driving) keep the doors locked
  12. If you are concerned about taking a taxi, memorize the plate number before you get in
  13. Before a trip in the taxi, you can estimate times and costs using the app taximetro.cl
  14. In the taxi watch out for fake bills and note swaps. State when you pass the money how much you are passing “Here is 10,000 …”.
  15. If you think the taxi meter is rising too quickly, get out. To avoid big problems, pay it and write the plate number down, and then formally report the driver to the Ministerio de Transportes.
  16. If you are in a stalemate situation with the taxi driver, threaten to call the police (or actually call the police)
  17. To avoid a portonazo, some ideas could be to install a GPS in the car, to install an electric gate or to get someone to open the door. If you see someone suspicious around, don’t get out.
  18. Don’t leave things in jacket pockets and tie bags to the table when you eat out
  19. Warning signals: random people by your house, shifty movements from being nervous
  20. During a phone scam, just hang up and do not engage in conversation because they use your words to determine if someone is home, if you have a daughter etc
  21. Start observing your surroundings so that you can come to see what is normal and what is not. Open. your. eyes!

This list was intended for those who are new to city life, or who would like to be extra-cautious in the city. By no means is Santiago more dangerous than anywhere else, and these tips can apply to any city, anywhere.  This post was prompted by recent news events that could have been avoided.  Any tips will be added to the post.

For more information regarding what to look for and tricks of the trade see the following blog posts:

Wheels on the Bus about the city-wide bus service from the drivers perspective

Yo Me Pare el Taxi/    Taxista in SantiagoTales from the taxi

What It´s Like Driving A Santiago Bus

Be honest: have you ever taken a bus and had the subconscious thought that the driver was  not very intelligent? I have.

It pains to me say that, but yes, I have to admit that deep down I was a bit of a bus snob. When i was growing up, we had a lot of nutty school bus drivers, and when I lived in Auckland I seemed to always encounter someone unsavoury on the bus ride to uni (how else to put that?!).

I now realise how wrong I was.

If you have been reading my other blog posts, you may remember that Luis is now working for Santiago’s bus company, TranSantiago. It is made up of lots of local companies, and Luis works for one based in Huechuraba called Al Sacia. It’s not the best – he usually works a lot of hours without a break (even to pee!) – and it took about four months in total for him to secure the job, after months of training and running around. When I say training I mean it – Luis had to intensely learn about his rights, passenger’s rights and how to react to any kind of situation, as well as mechanics.  He tells me:

“What people don’t realise is that the big buses – the micro oruga (caterpillar bus) – are incredibly difficult to drive and the driver can not see anything behind them. There is no visibility so that’s why accidents happen alot. All the buses are state-of-the-art machines – using the top mechanics in the world –  but they are still not as safe as travelling on the metro. It’s incredibly stressful driving the bus without even taking into account the passengers!”

Perhaps this accounts for why today the driver had no idea we were waiting with the pushchair and didn’t open the middle door until we asked. And then maybe why when he trapped a woman’s hand in the door and kept on driving he had no idea. We were up front near the driver and had no clue either until someone walked up and started shouting at the driver. We literally could hear nothing from the back. The woman was actually very hurt and the driver rerouted to the hospital. Luis intervened and explained that the lady should pass on her details and begin the process to get Al Sacia to pay, because very few people are aware that that kind of thing is within their rights.

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I’m afraid I have no idea what happened next because we got off and walked home. On the way I quizzed Luis for some tips. Here they are:

How To Keep Safe on the Bus

  1. It’s very easy to take a bus without paying, especially when payment is only (sometimes) enforced during rushhour. For that reason the bus attracts all kinds of characters that you will not find on the metro (because they would have to pay). Like the metro it gets very crowded but people can make a quick getaway so crime is more likely.
  2. Don’t use your phone! Even though all around you people may be using theirs, phones are one of the easiest and most common items to steal (in the taxi too so lock your doors!).  Most vulnerable position? The elevated seats by the window: when the bus stops, people use the tyres to jump up and grab the phone through the window (and this I witnessed last week).
  3. Getting on and off the bus is usually a busy time and often a prime moment for someone to rob you.
  4. Always take care of your belongings and keep them close to you.
  5. Don’t speak English really loudly!!

I’ve learnt lots of other interesting things since Luis began working for TranSantiago. Like the bus driver should never fight with someone outside the bus – if he does it can’t be classed as self-defense. And that there isn’t a brake like on a car, there’s actually a series of breaks that the driver decides to use depending upon how fast he needs to stop. There are also a number of drivers who insist that it is illegal to open the middle door for disabled passengers or for pushchairs – this law has now been changed and you are perfectly within your rights to enter by this door if you meet those requirements. I’ve also learnt that TranSantiago is a private company that the State pays, and they do so thinking that there are buses passing every ten minutes (are there really??). It’s made up of lots of local companies each one without different regulations and perks like breaks.

I actually love taking the bus – its my favorite method of travel here. While I appreciate the fastness of the metro, I find it often very uncomfortable and a nightmare during rush hour (though I will say the service has improved dramatically since 2012). It can be all too easy to blame the driver when something happens for we all love to play the blame game, but its important to remember that the simple truth is that the job is not easy.

“It’s actually really, really difficult – much harder than anything I have done before,” Luis tells me, “bus drivers are incredibly stressed out just driving that f**** machine – you have no idea how hard it is to drive until its you behind the wheel.”

There are plenty of drivers out there who can share their stories of being attacked by bored and irate passengers and in fact the internet is full of them.  There are also many bus drivers who are cantankerous, old men on a power high. But the fact is that none of them are stupid and it was wrong of me in the past to hold such opinions, even if they were deep, deep down inside. You never know – the next time you take a bus you may have Luis transporting you and he has a degree and speaks fluent English!!

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