28 Apr 2017

The arachnologist with a fear of spiders

From Nine To Noon, 10:10 am on 28 April 2017

Dr Robert Raven is a world-leading spider scientist or arachnologist.

He's the principal curator of spiders at the Queensland Museum.

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Photo: supplied

On a recent expedition in the Cape York area of Northern Queensland, he discovered 50 new species of spider and he suspects that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“That was a snapshot in a moment. Since then people have been working on some of the jumping spiders, which include the magnificent peacock spiders. They’ve notched it up to about 80 new species.”

Among the discoveries were a big tarantula which dives into water to kill and eat fish and a peacock spider that dances.

Spiders are the most interesting creatures in the world, Dr Raven says.

Yet, despite spending every day with spiders, he has a fear of them.

He says it’s a fear he manages, and in his job there are times when he really needs to.

“I was chest-deep in water in a creek that was a bit too shallow each end to support a crocodile, but I was in crocodile territory. I was poking at these big burrows of the spiders on the high bank of the creek, and I thought when they come out they’ll simply run up the bank.

"This one just came flying out and jumped into the water in front of me between my chest and the wall.”

This particular tarantula was the size of his face, Dr Raven says.

So what was the root of this arachnophobia?

“Well, I have a fear that my father gave me because he was a mining engineer. And he would go into disused mine shafts, lighting flaming newspapers to bring down the webs. And the spiders would fall down the back of his neck and so on. I was told this at too young an age and I developed a fear.”