There’s possibly a Greek myth to explain just about everything and spiders are no exception. The supposed origin of the spider comes from Greek mythology and the story of Arachne, from whom we get the class of creatures the Arachnids.
Arachne was a simple peasant girl but believed her weaving skills were the better of Athena who was the goddess of weaving and is said to have invented the loom. She presented Athena with a cloak and boastfully said she doubted Athena had anything as fine. Athena managed to control her anger after threatening to kill the girl and suggested a competition. Each was to weave a quilt and the town would vote on which was the best. Unsurprisingly, with her influence over frightened townsfolk, Athena won but decided that instead of killing the girl she would turn her into a spider so she could continue her weaving yet not be a threat to Athena.
We’re not sure which species Arachne became but with her brazen confidence it’s likely to be one of the few venomous spiders in Greece. Which of the following do you think descended from the talented, brave but ultimately foolish Arachne?
The Black Widow – Latrodectus Mactans
You may think that this is a spider of America and you’d be surprised to hear that it’s one of two species, the other being the wolf spider, that are the most geographically widespread across the globe. Known in Greece as the katipo, it’s reasonably large with a body growing up to about 1.5cm and instantly recognised by the red or orange hourglass shape on its abdomen. It’s the kind of spider you’ll find where you’d expect to find them; in sheds, under floors, in garages etc. but generally shies away from people unless protecting its eggs. Dispelling the myth, females rarely eat the male after mating – only in times of food scarcity although the myth and the name may have come from the fact that all males die shortly after mating having become biologically unnecessary after transferring their sperm.
Being bitten by one is manifested by a pinprick feeling which develops into intense pain shortly after. The pain is likely to spread and be accompanied by fever, shivering, a swinging variance in salivation, swollen eyelids, changed cardiac patterns and rigidity in the muscles, especially in the abdomen. Fewer than 5% of those bitten die and they are usually the elderly, the very young or those with health problems.
The Mediterranean Widow Spider - Latrodectus tredecimguttatus
The Mediterranean Recluse Spider - Loxosceles rufescens
This is a beautiful and instantly recognisable spider with distinctive orange markings on its abdomen. It’s bigger than the Black Widow and shares the same characteristics and habitat. Symptoms of a bite include delayed intense pain, severely watering eyes, sweating, muscle spasm, breathing difficulties and irregular heart rate, nausea and vomiting. As with the Black Widow, deaths are under 5% of those bitten and again it’s usually the weak who succumb. Locally it’s known as roka.
This is better known as the violin spider on account of the violin shaped marking on its back. It is also known rather boringly as the Brown Spider. Quite non-descript in appearance, it can easily be mistaken for common garden spiders but packs a far nastier bite. It has a cousin; the Recluse Spider which is equally dangerous but confined to the USA.
For the concerned, you’ll be pleased to hear it only makes a web for the protection of its eggs and is a wandering hunter, usually at night. It shies away from humans and large animals and there are few documented cases of bites and no fatalities recorded despite its cocktail of cyto, haemo and neurotoxins injected into its prey. It grows up to 2cm in length so you can’t miss it despite its drab appearance.
Greek Scorpion – Mesobuthus occitanus occitanus
Whilst not a spider, it seems worthwhile to include this very nasty scorpion in our list. Up to three inches long and a sandy brown colour, it is often difficult to spot until it’s too late. The scorpion hunts insects and small lizards at night, and its poison causes localised swelling, intense pain, circulatory problems and in extreme cases shock and death. It has been reportedly responsible for many deaths with one attack accounting for five deaths out of 28 people bitten; a strike rate of around 16%. Consider yourself lucky though for the same scorpion inhabits North Africa where for some unknown reason its venom is many times more potent.
Common sense will see almost all visitors to Greece avoid the spiders and scorpions. Don’t go rooting around in stores or garages without gloves and long sleeves and avoid stretching out on the ground at night.
If you are bitten, you should try to keep the limb as still as possible to prevent the venom spreading and swelling, secure in a sling / splint if that helps. Do not apply pressure or a bandage to the area / limb as this can encourage the venom to spread or restrict bloodflow. and seek medical advice immediately. In areas where the spiders and scorpions are prevalent, most doctors and many chemists will have an antidote or certainly medication to lessen the effects of the bite.
For the arachnophobes, bear in mind that only a very small number of locals and even fewer tourists are bitten by these creatures each year and that only a very small percentage succumb to the bites. By following common sense, Greek spiders and scorpions will not trouble your sunshine break at all. So don't let the spiders put you off visiting and booking car hire in Greece
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