HE’S king of the creepy crawlies, discoverer of new species and a world-renowned authority on insects.
But Paul Richards has a terrible secret.
He’s afraid of spiders.
Weston Park’s senior curator of natural history has put Sheffield on the entomological map by discovering a new-to-Britain species of Harvestsman - daddy longlegs to you and me - in his back garden.
He’s studied them under microscopes, catalogued and photographed them close up, he even keeps them in his fridge at home but don’t shout for him when there’s a spider in the bath.
“I really don’t like spiders,” says father of two Paul, who has just celebrated a triple anniversary of 25-years of marriage to Louise, 25 years as curator at Weston Park Museum and a 50th birthday.
“I’m getting used to them but I’m not keen. I am not arachnophobic because daddy longlegs are arachnids and I’m not going to stand on a chair screaming when there’s a spider in the house because the rest of the family are worse than me, but I really don’t like them.
“They are too quick. You could not be afraid of a Huntsman, they are so spindly and I think they are really attractive but I would rather step on a spider when I see one - though I don’t!”
How does he manage to work?
“People bring me spiders to identify - usually because they are big ones and you need to look underneath to identify them and that makes me shudder sometimes.
“There are three major differences between a Huntsman and a spider. A spider has two parts to its body, a Huntsman only has one. A Huntsman has only two eyes, a spider has eight and Huntsmen don’t spin webs like spiders do.”
But the Huntsman also has something else special.
Apparently its penis is the length of its whole body. The male and female have no courtsship ritual and, as occasionally appears to occur with certain members of another species on city centre Saturday nights, they just walk up to each other and mate.
Back in the real world, things could have worked out very differently for Paul, who designed and organised the new-look Weston Park museum’s upgrade five years ago, which is now the city’s most popular attraction and, he says, in the top 20 in the country
Sheffield and Weston Park also has one of the best natural history collections in the world assembled over the last 190 years,
Highlights include the collections of local amateur naturalists Henry Clifton Sorby, Henry Seebohm and Margaret Gatty and the macabre osteology (bones) collections which contain exotic species, many obtained from menageries and circuses in the 19th century.
Paul moved to the Crookes area of the city from his native Leicester - where he had been searching through the county’s dung heaps for years looking for insects - to become a taxidermist in Sheffield.
“Taxidermy is a combination of butchery and art,” said Paul. “But we had to stuff a monkey on one occasion and it wasn’t very pleasant at all and I thought: ‘I don’t want to be doing this’.
So now he spends his time grubbing around under rocks and in bushes looking for the Harvestman and woodlice. His next mission wil probably be looking at Ticks - not native to this country but on the way with migration and global warming and a potential health threat to humans.
IF you want to join in the survey of the Huntsman in South Yorkhire contact Paul Natural via email on firstname.lastname@example.org or on 2782763.