People who have never
visited rainforests often think of them as dangerous places, where
deadly snakes dangle in your face, jaguars leap out to attack you,
spiders and scorpions creep into your bed at night, and huge shoals of
piranhas eat you alive if you paddle at the edge of a river.
In truth you are far more
likely to be killed or seriously injured in a road accident at home.
Snakes are extremely alert and generally timid, slithering off long
before you have a chance to cross their path, while attacks by
jaguars, caiman and piranhas are extremely rare.
Probably the greatest
danger is from stinging caterpillars, and from ants and spiders, some
of which can inflict an excruciatingly painful bite. A short stroll
along a rainforest track often involves having to regularly
disentangle yourself from spider webs, many of which are occupied by
decidedly scary looking inhabitants such as the creature illustrated
above. I don't know whether or not this particular spider is venomous,
but I'm glad I didn't get bitten!
Tarantulas ( illustrated
below ), are very common and often seen on the ground, on tree trunks,
or on walls. They are relatively harmless and unlikely to bite. If
threatened they rear up, raising their front legs high in the air,
while making a hissing or stridulating sound. If this fails to deter,
they may rush forward and bite. More often though they suddenly twirl
around and flick urticating hairs into the face of the attacker. The
hairs can cause a very painful rash, and if they get into your eyes or
lungs the pain can be excruciating.