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Am wondering about this episode, from Timothy Bax, Three Sips of Gin:

The three of us had just moved from the bar to an outside courtyard to take advantage of a cool breeze when between us walked a large hunting spider. It was some five inches in diameter with a bulbous yellow backside the size of a squash ball. The [South African] Brigadier took a nimble step backwards warning us to be careful.

“You ‘Rhodesias’ must watch out for those things, they are extremely venomous,” he cautioned keeping a wary eye on the hairy creature.

Ian looked down at the spider as if it were nothing more dangerous than a dung beetle. Bending down he scooped it up in his right hand and popped it into his mouth, swallowing it like a hungry hound might swallow a piece of meat. Then pulling a filthy handkerchief from his pocket, he gave his nose a loud honk that sounded like the blast of a ship’s horn on a foggy night off the Goodwin Sands. “They’re only dangerous if you let them bite you, Brigadier. Eaten, they are a great delicacy,” said Ian nonchalantly, swigging back his beer.

Is this realistic? Surely you would need to at least kill it before swallowing it? Is the venom not dangerous if swallowed?

I assume this was a Huntsman spider, and from limited personal experience from long ago, I believe spiders tend to curl up into a ball when/just before dying, so technically I guess it is possible to swallow it whole.

  • So the "Ian" was either a lion or had an unusually large mouth to pop in and swallow a 5 inch spider with a backside the size of a squash ball. – Weather Vane Apr 15 at 16:27
  • Curled into a ball it might be 5cm diameter. 5" was between the tips of the legs I guess. – Tomas By Apr 15 at 17:16
  • Even it will go into the mouth, I think it would be rather difficult to get that size down the throat without chewing it. The quote does not make that clear, perhaps for dramatic effect, although the analogy is with a dog, and hungry dogs often do not chew their food. – Weather Vane Apr 15 at 17:22
  • @TomasBy While I wouldn't take this as the answer for this situation specifically, but oftentimes, venom is not poisonous. I'd guess that it could be safe if the spider was dead, no clue about anything else here. – fyrepenguin Apr 15 at 17:48
  • @TomasBy I don't see anything on the Wikipedia page you linked related the toxicity of Huntsman spider venom when ingested, nor anything about eating the spider in general. All I was mentioning was the fact that venom is not necessarily poisonous. – fyrepenguin Apr 15 at 18:02
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I think you will find that Timothy Bax is given to a bit of hyperbole.

I did a quick search for spiders in South Africa - and it seems that there are a number of spiders that could potentially fit the description of being ground-dwelling, hunting, large and hairy. There are members of the Tarantula family, which have bulbous abdomens, and generally fit the description quoted above. However, none of the ones I could find for this family are yellow.

So what is the spider in question, and how venomous is it likely to be? Well, there is one common potential species in South Africa that is yellow-ish brown, hunting, and large with a bulbous abdomen. That spider is the Rain spider (Palystes superciliosus) a member of, as you guessed, the Huntsman family. They get up to 110 mm/4" leg-span. They are venomous and have a myth of having quite powerful venom due to a study that used anesthetized guinea pigs - who died of shock from the anesthetic, not the bite.

If you follow the link you will see that they have very long legs relative to the body, so I would suspect that most people would be capable of fitting one in their mouth relatively easily, especially if it were in the legs-drawn-in posture that spiders often assume when frightened. I can't find any record of people eating these as a part of their diet, but I think it is safe to assume that it is possible to do so with no side-effects, as some spider species are eaten in other parts of the world

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Similar things have happened before, in South America, but if the spider is poisonous, it may have some effect even when eaten.

He was infested with worm parasites that had burrowed into his flesh and had trouble speaking and moving after swallowing venom from a poorly cooked giant spider. He was covered with bites from "poux d'agoutis" - a particularly itchy tropical flea.

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  • Wonder if it was this one. "part of the local cuisine", "the venom is relatively harmless". – Tomas By Apr 17 at 21:48
  • Any article from a tabloid or even broad sheet paper can be assumed as largely fabricated. – ldgorman Apr 27 at 15:10
  • @ldgorman: BBC, book. – Tomas By Apr 27 at 21:17
  • @Idgorman True, but before criticizing, a Google search for the person's name would have quickly shown you that it's a real story. I was just lazy and posted the first article that matched the recollection I had of this incident, this subject matter being more Readers' Digest than Annals of Quantum Chemistry in nature. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica Jun 17 at 20:16

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