27 June 2008

Fighting Spiders

I wrote this post to provide some answers for Mr Andrew Ngin, a scriptwriter currently working on an upcoming drama about friendship amongst 3 boys who lived through the 60s. Andrew studied at the same secondary school as I but is 8 years my junior. As he is doing some research on spiders, he left a comment here and there, asking several questions about spiders.

Q1. Did you catch any spiders back in the 1960s

A: Although I have never played with or caught any spider in my childhood before, I have seen my neighbours' kids play with them before. Below is a brief description of a typical spider fight. I also did some research for you by googling and also asked a self-proclaimed "spider expert" called Moo. (I call that "moogling". Haha.)

The spider owner, usually a boy, will house a lone spider in an Elastoplast box. It is a rather flat (about 1 cm thick) rectangular metal box that is red in colour. (Elastoplast, as you probably know, is a brand of plaster or self-adhesive bandage as you would call it now. This brand may still be available today but the packaging is probably different.)

The boy will put a leaf or two in the box, probably to make the spider feel "at home". It also gives the spider some places to hide.

For boys with in-born gambling instinct, they will wage bets on a spider fight. The stake could be anything from a 10-cent ice ball for poor kids like me or up to a dollar or two for well-to-do kids.

When it is fighting time, the outside surface of the closed box will be the fighting arena. One kid will hold the box with one hand while another spider belonging to another kid will be placed on the same box. The 2 spiders soon see each other because the space on the box is quite limited and each spider has several eyes to see with, so it's hard to miss an opponent.

They will then face each other and start their "fighting dance" routine. Both will hold out their arms and move from side to side. They will make contact every now and then.

After a few minutes, the winner and loser will have been decided. The loser will run frantically around the box with the winner chasing close behind it. That's when you know that the fight has ended and it's also time for the winning owner to chase the loser frantically round the block for payment. ;)

There are usually no fatalities but sometimes injuries are sustained. Although a spider is too small to be examined for minor injuries and it doesn't bleed red blood, you can certainly tell when an arm or two have fallen off and the spider is limping.

Fighting spiders are usually male. If a male meets a female, they will probably not fight but do the other "f" thing, quite naturally. Fraternising that is, what were you thinking?

According to this website, females also fight each other, but "the combat does not show the same degree of vigour as in the male-to-male fray". They probably just pull at each other's hair.

Q2. What were the best methods and techniques you used in catching them?

A: According to this website, "the spider builds a nest by binding two leaves together with vertical strands of silk, perpendicular to the leaf surfaces". So look for leaves that are stuck together, peel them open slowly and be ready to catch any escaping spider.

Q3. Where did you find them in Singapore?

A3. Certainly not in city areas where I live. Maybe in countryside kampongs like Lorong Kinchir.

Q4. What do you feed them with?

Any small live insects that are made half-dead by a little squishing with our fingers. Click here for more information from a real spider expert on how to properly rear spiders.

(Moo says that you also have to cater to their sexual needs, i.e. catch a sexy female spider and let it spend some quality time with your top-ranking fighter. If you are lucky, you may be blessed with hordes of baby fighters. If you care for your prized spider properly, it will live happily for several months and die not in battle but from old age.)

Q5. What were they called?

Thiania bhamoensis of the Salticidae family... Oh you mean the colloquial name? I heard one species was called Orh Pao (Hokkien for "black panther".)

Q6. Do you know anyone who was/is a spider expert?

Yes, more than one. Besides the real expert Mr Joseph K H Koh, there is the self-proclaimed one, Mr Moo. If you would like to interview Mr Moo, please let me know how I can contact you. (If you would rather interview the real expert, I will see what I can do.)

There, I hope I have answered all your questions satisfactorily, Andrew. In return, I would like to ask you just one:

Do we get to have our names mentioned in the film's credits as "spider consultants"?


yg said...


i am not a spider expert but i did spend much time catching spiders when i was in primary school. i used to go catching them along the perimeter fence of the old jewish cemetery or at the undergrowth.

when i studied at newton boys' school, i remember going to peck hay road to catch spiders.

when you lift the top leaf to look into the spider's nest, you can usually tell if a male spider or a female residing in it by the colour of the face . if you see streaks of white between the eyes, then you know it is a male. (we would always be excited when we saw the white lines.) male spiders are larger but slimmer than female spiders.

we used all kinds of small rectangular boxes to house the spiders. in some cases, we had two or three spiders kept in the same box.

captured spiders are usually fed the heads of houseflies. we would catch the fly with our bare hand, smashed it on the ground to kill it and separate the head from the body.

yes, we kept female spiders to cater to the needs of the males. we would immobolise the female by pressing on its ample abdomen.
the male would approach the mate with its whole body quivering; his two arms would be held closer together unlike the stance it adopted when it was fighting. it would then embrace the female spider and then mount it.

not all male spiders are courageous fighters. there are some male spiders, with more white lines on their legs, which we referred to as 'white feet'. these spiders will usually 'chicken out' of a fight.

fighting spiders actually wrestle more than fight, although some do lose a limb or two at the end of it.

Anonymous said...


Your blog brought back memories when as a young boy in the 60s I used to catch spiders after school with a group of my school friends. We would scout around the perminter fencing with thick dense foliage and slowly and gingerly look for leaves that stuck together. The spiders usually build their nest in this manner. The act of catching demands a certain technique. The stuck leaves must be peeled slowly or else the spider would just escape. Usually the attempt to catch the spider would be aborted if it is confirmed that the spider turns out to be a female. To an expert spider catcher the way the stuck leaves is formed would indicate the gender of the spiders in the nest.
It is said that if you want your spider to be a winner all you have to do is to let it have a go with another female spider before another fighting match begins.

Anonymous said...

spider fighting - No? Ants fighting - YES, We collect red ants from frangipani branches and placed them exactly on top of match box - the "ring".

First time introduction to ant fighting, I use black ants. Black ants not "garang" as red ants. Also red ants got poisonous sting. The winner is the one who can bite off the legs of the other ant or bite the eye-ball off until it cannot see properly and end up walking in circles.

The prize? 1 bowl of yellow noodle soup = 20 cents in the early 1960s.

Lam Chun See said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lam Chun See said...

Victor. Did you post a link to Wee Kiat's Yesterday.sg article about the Go-Stun pow. This is a fighting style where the spider will move back a little before engaging its enemy. This type supposed to be the best fighters.

Also you forgot that Chuck mentioned that we usually name the champion as 1st king, runner-up as 2nd king and so on.

To catch the spider ... once you are sure its a male, you either pluck the two leaves gently to avoid alarming the resident; or you cut with a pair of small scissors. If the leaves are too big; e.g. yam leaves, then you use your two hands to cup the part that you want and yank the whole lot off.

My biggest spider was caught in Lornie Road near my school in Braddell Rise and outside MacRitchie Reservoir. Details here.

One more thing. the spiders don't only use two fresh living leaves. Sometimes a dead leaf on another living leaf can also become a home for them. As to the type of plants; I think many types such as pandan leaves, bamboo, pomelo, ayer simpol, yam, banana, Japanese kanna, soursop, and many others. Nowadays, if you bother to search, there are still many spiders around. In fact, in my garden also have.

yg said...

one good thing about this reminiscing is that one really goes deep into the recesses of one's mind to recall things that happened fifty years ago. then, you really marvel at the brain that is able to file away some much info accumulated over the years.

yes, i remember the go-stun manoeuvre, mentioned by chun see, of the spider. i think this strategy helps it to size up its opponent and at the same time it gains some momentum as it charges at its opponent.

one more thing about food for the spiders. we sometimes fed them bed-bugs.

chun see seemed to have a very civilised way of catching spiders - gently plucking the leaves and using a pair of scissors. our way was to cup the two hands over the nest and yank it away forcefully.

we would then hurry to an open space or the path/road, if one was nearby, and dropped the leaves onto the ground.

if nothing emerged, it meant that the spider had slipped through our hands.

Anonymous said...


thank you guys, so much, for all the spider facts. i am frantically trying to adjust and include them in the scripts. i even wrote in, a barber, after reading a blog entry, and i hope the production budget will allow for that.

anyone know of any kampungs near chinatown?

also, does anyone recall any scary horror stories that your grandma or parents used to tell you as a kid? those kampung horror stories?

and as boys will be boys, what kind of things did u guys do to check out the opposite sex? was there such a thing as playboy back then? what was the equivalent? for me, i was intrigued by a magazine called sexology which i noticed was always hung up on a wire, at the mama shop, tantalizingly out of reach of us boys, but the cover was always some semi naked couple embracing. haha.

and what sort of things did u and your friends have constant arguments about?

rest assured that credits will be given. shall i call you guys the gentlemen of nostalgia? :)

Anonymous said...


One comment struck me as i was reading. A SEXY female spider was chosen for the pleasure of the king spider. Now..how does one pick a SEXY female spider? is there a criteria? size of head or belly? etc etc

Anonymous said...

another thought occurred to me as i was writing.

were there any favorite phrases tht you guys like to use back then? or favorite insults? remember its post 65.

Anonymous said...

many of your questions like:

1. was there PLAYBOY
2. How did guys check out the opposite sex (+ rating system)
3. favorite phrases used

Answers have to be taken off-line, otherwise Victor's blog could be banned.

Victor said...

YG - Wow, thank you for those (go-)stunning details - more than enough to write a brand new post on fighting spiders.

I remember that there was a type of brown "ghost spider" which lurks in our house and not in the bushes. Its shape and size looked similar to the fighting spider but it would not fight.

Victor said...

Stanley - I guess sex is essential even to spiders. Haha.

Victor said...

Peter - Ant fighting? Yes, I tried that too with little red ants but I had difficulty getting soldiers of the same troop to fight with each other. Then I discovered a little trick - roll the two ants together lightly between the thumb and the index finger until they are injured but not dead. Then they will really bite at each other.

Yes it's cruel but kids then would do anything to have some fun.

Victor said...

Chun See - Thanks for that go-stun spider link. I have forgotten all about it. Ok, must be my age.

I agree with YG, from what I heard from my other friends, you were too gentle with the spiders.

Victor said...

Andrew - If you ask any more questions, I am going to charge. :)

Victor said...

Andrew - In my mirror post on yesterday.sg, someone by the name of Adrian provided a very informative forum thread on fighting spiders. It looks like Adrian is the "spider expert" you've been looking for. But I think he lives in Malaysia, which should be close enough, right?

Sigfredo said...

I enjoyed your post about spider fighting. I was looking for some images for my shorty story Gladiator and chanced upon it. It is available at


Unknown said...

Those were the day and it's gone now I guess.. I don't see people playing fighting spiders now.. I'm willing to join in some challenge we have people playing this days..

Unknown said...

Anyone still play spider this days? Pls contact me.. We can go catch them one week end for some challenge ��

Unknown said...

Hi friends. I am a spider favourite. But I like a fighting spider which I fierce. Like a chopper spider. Some.chinese call it sakpau! When start to fight they won't open their fighting style. They straight away.. cope n eat. If u can find for me I wanna buy.buy my favorite colors of spider full blank body