The Back Story

Every so often I like to give my readers a story-behind-the-image blog, so they can get a more realistic idea of the trials and tribulations of a pro field photographer. The lead image is from a past assignment that I just came across while viewing some potential images for an editorial client.

What you are looking at is an Amazonian Tarantula, which is common in the Amazon and which can grow to an astounding 13 inches, leg-to-leg. This one was about 8 inches, although admittedly I didn’t ask it to hold still while I measured it.

The challenge was that I took this photo in a cabin I was using in the Ecuadorian Amazon in 2006 while on an assignment there. Complicating things, this brute was on the ceiling each night when I came in, waiting, motionless, observing my every move with those eight big eyes. Worse yet, during the daytime it was obviously elsewhere (a classic case of don’t ask, don’t tell).

Now, truth be known I have a complicated relationship with spiders. Once, when I was a high school teacher waaaa-y back when, I kept a pet tarantula in my biology classroom. One day as I walked around the classroom allowing students to touch it (we were studying spiders), one of my students leapt from her chair, screaming. That caused me to drop the spider and when I picked it up it bit me on the thumb.

The truth is that tarantula bites are highly over-rated. I mean some folks may be allergic to the bite, but in my case it swelled my thumb for a couple of days and that’s it. I returned the frightened tarantula to its cage and forgave its trespasses, although my screaming student didn’t recover for… well, she may still be in recovery for all I know.

Now segue to another memorable spidery day when I ventured into my garage barefoot. I stuck my foot under my workbench to retrieve a tool and was bitten by a brown recluse. Not such fun. I lost a quarter-sized part of my instep and the bite took 11 months to heal!

Or, how about a funnel-web spider I found in our bathroom while in a lodge in Australia? That monster is highly venomous and for a frightening hour I felt I might lose the back-and-forth battle to kill it (alright, my wife says it took 30 seconds, but it sure felt like an hour!).

So, back to my Amazonian friend, who presented me with a dilemma. First, it was brutally hot and humid in my cabin, not good for putting protective covers over oneself. Second, I did not relish the spider crawling down while I was asleep and my rolling over on it and possibly getting bit in a more delicate place. So I did what any sane person would do. I wrapped myself in the sheet, head to toe. For three nights I recall having dreams of being mummified, of being suffocated, being hung, drowning and being waterboarded by CIA agents that had eight legs.

Anyway, that’s the backstory. I survived.