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First shots ever of museum's venomous squatters

Sometime during the 1970s a few Chilean recluse spiders apparently hitched a ride in a crate from South America to Helsinki's Museum of Natural History, establishing in its nooks and crannies Europe's only population of these venomous arachnids. For the first time now, Yle's Prisma Studio science programme was able to capture photos of one of these elusive creatures.

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A Chilean recluse spider photographed at Helsinki's Museum of Natural History. Image: Samuli Siltanen

Since the 1970s, Helsinki's Museum of Natural History has been home to a small population of the native South American Chilean recluse spider (Loxosceles laeta). While common is South America, the spiders inhabiting the museum are the only ones living free in this country, or indeed the whole of Europe. 

While the origin of this population is not known, it is thought that they first arrived by hitching a ride from Chile in a packing crate. It is a very hardy species that can survive without food for months at a time.

Chilean recluse spiders are venomous and can be dangerous to humans, the effects of which can range from mild skin irritation to severe skin necrosis.

Chilean recluse spider are just that - reclusive, preferring dark, enclosed spaces, making them very difficult to find and even more difficult to photograph.

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Image: Samuli Siltanen

Yle's science programme Prisma Studio was, however, able to track one down in the depths of the museum's cellar and both photograph and video record this eight-legged squatter for its Wednesday evening edition.

The specimen trapped even ran up the bare arm of Prisma's production advisor.

"What a fine creature, completely different than Finnish spiders," says Samuli Siltanen, an amateur arachnid enthusiast. "It walks in a totally different way and it has six eyes, while ours have eight."

A video of the successful Chilean recluse spider hunt (in Finnish) can be seen here.

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