I was loitering around the hotel in search of ice cream when I spotted Diego hopping from foot to foot and holding a large box. I couldn’t work out why he appeared so energised until I saw a tarantula summiting the side and heaving himself onto the lid with a soft thud. Not everyone likes tarantulas, and this was a tricky situation. It wouldn’t be good if the spider jumped down and make its way to the bar, and yet it wouldn’t be good if it jumped onto Diego’s face either, something he was adamant was within the realms of possibility. I thought we could trap it using the traditional scouty glass-and-book method, but when Alonso and Edward came over, saw the spider, swore and got all skittish, I lost some of my enthusiasm. “You say they jump?” I asked dubiously, circling Diego and the box. “Yes, yes” they chorused, “they jump. They can jump really high.” “And they don’t bite or anything, do they?” I checked as I leaned in. “Yes, yes” they said, “They bite. They can kill you!” Actually, there was some debate over that as I hung around with a wine glass. No-one knew of a case in which anyone had actually died, but Marino, the gardener, had gone into spasms and then into hospital, after being bitten, and his arm had been numb for days.
Understandably, now there was a tarantula on the ground trapped and irate under a glass, no-one was volunteering to release him, so I got Tyson, who is, after all, the manager. He assessed the situation, disappeared and returned with an umbrella. He ingeniously, looped the cord at the end of the handle around the stem of the glass, and, having got as far away as he could, used it to lift and shake the glass from a safe distance. We watched the small, hairy thing consider its next move. Eventually it decided to go back to where Diego had first found it, by the battery bank.
Few tarantulas are venomous, but these, the zebra, or stripeknee tarantulas, known in Costa Rica as pica caballos, or horse biters, can bite and do inject venom. They also flick urticating hairs as a defence mechanism, and these can irritate the skin, but they don’t kill people. Usually. Interestingly, they can live many years – the oldest in captivity lived to 49, so I suspect this isn’t the last we’ve seen of this particular arachnid.