Every year, Te Papa along with its sister institutions in other parts of the country, receives thousands of calls about insects and spiders. Approximately a third of these calls are about spiders, a figure way out of proportion to the number of spiders compared to insects.
Here, you'll find information and images of the spiders most frequently asked about, plus a couple that are remarkable for other reasons. We will continue to add more information about different species as well as lots of other interesting material on spiders.
Confessions of a former arachnophobe
My name is Phil Sirvid and I think spiders are wonderful. However, it would be fair to say that most people who telephone me about spiders don't do so because of their fondness for arachnids. No, they call because they are concerned or even downright scared. But I'll let you in on a little secret - I used to be afraid of spiders too.
When I was four years old a tunnelweb spider crawled up my leg. Let me tell you, when you are four years old, one of these spiders looks like a tarantula. I can still see it in my mind's eye, covering my kneecap as it climbed ever higher. At this point I let out a yell, shook it off, and squashed it with a rock that I doubt I could have lifted under normal circumstances.
I remember nightmares about spiders that must have been based on that incident. Later, I put my hand on what I thought was a lump on a tree trunk, only to be revolted when it sprouted legs because it was actually a well-disguised orb web spider.
So what changed? Like many fears, mine was at least partly grounded in ignorance. Often it is harder to be afraid of something you understand. For me it was the humble orb web spider, much like the one that had disgusted me a year or two earlier, that started my rehabilitation.
One day, I saw one catching one of the introduced vespid wasps that are a menace to both people and native wildlife alike. If there was anything I liked less than spiders, it was these wasps. I was enthralled as I watched the spider capture the wasp, deftly avoiding the wasp's sting.
In hindsight, I am not sure if the spider managed this through luck rather than good instincts, but I was impressed at the time. Thereafter I started giving spiders a little more attention. By the time I reached university I was hooked. I even kept a pet katipo spider by my bed!