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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Off the Grid: The man-eating spiders of Costa Rica

By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

I have spent little time in the jungle, possibly because accessing one requires international travel, but largely because it is home to insect life I prefer to pretend is make-believe.

And so it came as a surprise to me that my host in Costa Rica said the bugs would not bother me one bit during my stay. Thus far, I already had a swarm of exotic mosquitoes (much harder to kill than our Northwest variety) munching happily at my ankles, a giant green almost-mistaken-for-a-leaf-in-my-salad bug, and one horrific beetle carcass perched on a nearby flower that I almost touched.

I was awake most of the first night, checking and rechecking my screens, smooshing anything that looked like it might turn into a bug when the lights went out, and then being quite certain fire ants were marching their way under my door already. Every noise – and the jungle is a constant symphony – jolted me out of bed to grasp for a sturdy shoe.

The next day, weary-eyed but optimistic, I ventured into the jungle where I saw butterflies that were the hot pink of a 1988 music video, a dozen varieties of ants, iguanas climbing on trees and resting on river rocks, bright lizards surrounded by blue dragonflies, and so many curious bugs I had never imagined. They seemed harmless in their natural habitat. My fear slowly dissipated.

I made friends with the iguana living under the stairs of my bungalow by engaging him in typical tourist conversation, tapped some innocent thing off my backpack, and declared the jungle rather fascinating and far less terrifying than I originally suspected.

That night, I awoke in the middle of the night to use the restroom and as I sleepily rested on my knees wondering what I might dream of next, I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye. A big movement.

I’m not sure if my bladder spontaneously emptied or decades of kegels served me, but I was off that toilet and out of the bathroom in a flash, wide awake, hair tingling. There, right next to where I had been sitting, was a G-I-A-N-T spider. Nearly the size of my hand, or maybe the size of a small dog, this enormous black body was surrounded by a set of eight black legs, sharp and spindly and looking wicked fast.

This was clearly a man-eating spider, the most dangerous of all eating spiders.

I had actually seen him earlier that night, strolling down the path as if he didn’t notice me. When I paused to wait for him to cross, he suddenly scurried away with such rapidity that I leapt no less than 2 feet straight into the air and squealed like a girl who just found out she was prom queen. Since he ran off and I wasn’t entirely sure it hadn’t been a large cat, I thought not much more of it and went to bed.

What I didn’t realize then was that the spider was casing me. Now, in my bathroom at 3 a.m., he was slowly walking toward me, drooling.

Just the night before, I had a conversation with Nature when I stepped onto my bungalow porch and a moth the size of Kentucky landed on my back. I entered these negotiations by screaming hysterically and hopping up and down while flailing my arms about. The moth was unmoved.

I explained to the black, furry thing (which could have also been a bat) that my body and the inside of my bungalow or tent were no-fly/crawl/creep/scurry zones as per international laws of insect conduct and the Arachnid et al Treaty of 1978. Moths, while generally goofy, are more reasonable than spiders, though, and this one departed just before I smashed a patio chair across my back.

The spider, however, had different plans. Not only was he advancing toward me, but he seemed to be growing with each step. I fetched the most solid shoe I had and silently wished I traveled with my cast iron cook set.

This spider looked like it was the kind that might charge me and jump. Jumping spiders are undoubtedly the worst and responsible for the majority of public pants-wetting, I am certain. If I could not kill this spider in a single blow (and there was no doubt this was a battle to the death), I would have to evacuate the premise immediately and fly back to Idaho where I would welcome stink bug season.

The standoff ended for us in precisely the same moment, spider lunging at me and me charging forward with a warrior cry fit for Sparta as my shoe came down hard on the enormous, crunchy body, its awful legs splaying out from beneath the sole in a final furious twitch.

I fought the urge to vomit, then huddled in my bed with eyes wide open until sunrise. In the morning, I described the courageous battle to housekeeping using interpretive dance and the four Spanish words I know. When she had disposed of the cadaver for me later (for I was still too disturbed to look), she nodded casually and said, “Oh yes, you’ll find these everywhere.”

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at ammimarie@gmail.com

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