In a world where "Kill it with fire!" is the standard response to a visitor of the arachnid variety, we sure are thankful for people like Natasha Joyce. When the self-proclaimed "science geek" found a newly made egg sac belonging to a huntsman spider in her postbox recently, she did what any self-respecting geek would do: she roped in the neighbourhood kids for an incubation experiment. 

Joyce is a La Trobe University student who lives in Bendigo, Victoria, where these large, hairy spiders are a common sight. All in all, Australia is home to approximately 95 species that are found nowhere else. Their large size and fast, crab-like movements make them unpopular house guests (it probably doesn't help that they occasionally freak out the internet by dragging mouse carcasses around), but not everyone is intimidated.

When the egg sac appeared in early October, Joyce decided not only to let it stay, but also to make the spiders-in-the-making comfortable. "The coloured cardboard at the bottom of the letterbox is the 'nursery furniture' installed by my friend's kids, in readiness for the tiny arrivals," she explains. 

With some tips and advice from experts at Museums Victoria – huntsman moms can be fiercely protective of their broods, so some caution was required – Joyce and her neighbourhood helpers settled in to wait for the great emergence, checking in on progress each day, reports local media outlet Bendigo Advertiser. The guest even got a name worthy of her spiderly awesomeness: Hortense, Protector of the Post.

For her part, Hortense proved an amicable tenant, setting up her maternity ward in the corner of the postbox, well clear of bill-retrieving human hands. Her eager observers, however, had to wait longer than expected. "It was a long gestation period, as this species usually hatch within 2-3 weeks, but the weather has been odd lately," explains Joyce. It's likely that climatic conditions can affect huntsman incubation periods.

The spiderlings finally emerged earlier this week, and in huntsman fashion, Hortense will now stick around to watch over her progeny as they undergo several moults, before making their way into the world. "There were hundreds, at least two hundred … we were incredibly excited," Joyce told the Bendigo Advertiser

Despite their fearsome appearance, the spiders are not dangerous to humans, and a tolerated huntsman house guest can actually pay its dues by enthusiastically eating a cockroach or two.


Top header image: Bill & Mark Bell, Flickr