HAVING a room in your house dedicated to live arachnids is not many people’s idea for a good night’s sleep.
How would you feel if you knew you had about 220 venomous creatures living in your home, and among them were 23 species of Australian tarantula, 15 scorpion species, even a deadly funnel web spider with enough bite to kill you in seven minutes?
For Geoff O’Connor of the Willow Gemfields, they’re his pride and joy.
“In 1995 I caught my first spider, and from then, it was on,” Geoff said.
“I was in Cairns sitting in the front yard having a beer with a mate and a big spider ran out in front of us, everyone took off in the opposite direction except me, for some reason I just ran up and grabbed him.
“I took him into National Parks and they said he was a male of a bird-eating spider species.”
Since that fateful day 16 years ago, Geoff has turned his passion into a successful business, Intrinsic Enterprises, which would drive the hairs on most people’s legs to dance with fear.
Collecting and breeding spiders and scorpions from across Australia has led to Geoff supplying universities and pet stores with many of our nation’s most misunderstood natives.
It is difficult to know where to start when studying Geoff’s personal collection, which over the years has handed him close to 100 bites.
Housed in containers that fill every nook and cranny of space live the fruits of what “started off as a hobby and later got out of control”.
“Years ago everyone used to think I was crazy, but then 10 years on all the pet stores were ringing and everyone was after what I had,” he said.
Geoff said most people had no idea what lurked underground.
“Look for a hole the size of a 20 cent piece in the ground and that’s where they are, once you’ve seen one hole, you’ll notice them everywhere.”
Geoff sourced scorpions in a different manner, because as he said, it was hopeless walking around at daytime trying to find them.
“Under an ultra violet light they glow distinctively and it just looks magnificent, not many people know that,” he said.
Among the group lives an Orange Tree Scorpion, which Geoff had the pleasure of naming after being the first to discover the species.
Conservation is top of the list for Geoff, who believes breeding in captivity is the best way to protect the natural order of life in the wild.
“It’s much better to breed them than to take them out of the fields,” he said.
Other than serving as nasty looking pets, Geoff routinely sends different species to universities to use in vital venom studies.
The walking encyclopedia on everything arachnid wasn’t always the most confident handler, but years of experience has built up a skill that most people wouldn’t dare attempt.
“As kids, my mother used to threaten us if we were bad that she would lock us in the toilet under the house with all the spiders, and I was pretty bad, so maybe that’s how I got used to them,” he said with a chuckle.
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