If you’re wondering about dangerous spiders in South Africa, then wonder no more. This guide to the eight-legged critters in the home of the safari plains and the surf-washed beaches of J-Bay has you covered. It’s got info on five of the deadliest and most fearsome crawlies around, with details on what they look like and what you can do to avoid them.
The good news is that there has never been an official case of a human fatality from a spider bite in South Africa. Nope, not one! There are regularly reports of dogs and cats and other domestic pets falling prey to the venomous arachnids listed below, but, for the most parts, us homo sapiens don’t have to worry too much.
Of course, it pays to be wary and aware, since a whole bunch of the spiders in South Africa do possess venom or bites that can cause pain and complications. At the very least, there’s a chance that an attack from one of these guys will ruin that once-in-a-lifetime adventure down the stunning Garden Route, the wild lands of Kruger, or the wine fields of Stellenbosch. So, whiz up before you go, folks…
Blue-footed baboon spider (Idiothele mira)
The blue-footed baboon spider is a classic tarantula-style spider. It’s relatively common across South Africa, known to live right around the state of KwaZulu-Natal and surrounding regions. Capable of growing to around 30mm, they aren’t the largest of their genus but are also nothing minuscule. As the name suggests, they have distinctly blue feet. Yep, the ends of the legs glow a dull, cobalt-style blue from the penultimate segment to where they meet the floor. There’s also a clear black line running down the central part of the abdomen.
Largely nocturnal, these guys prefer to live in heavily to lightly wooded areas. They’ll conceal themselves in the undergrowth, under large rocks or rotting tree trunks, creating protective nests that can pierce nearly 30cm beneath the surface of the earth in some cases. Blue-footed baboon spiders – like most types of baboon spiders in South Africa – are far more active in the summer months, which is their main mating season, so expect to spot more in the wild between November and March.
Most people believe that this type of spider does have some sort of venom, however a lack of studies into the blue-footed baboon spider means that it’s still an unknown quantity. What is for certain is that there are definite risks to their population numbers, mainly thanks to the boom in demand for them from exotic pet owners and habitat destruction on account of climate change.
King baboon spider (Pelinobius muticus)
If you thought that the blue-footed baboon spider was bad, just wait until you meet the royal version! In fact, the king baboon spider is a totally different genus of spider to the plain old baboon spider – this one comes from the Pelinobius tree of crawlies, while the one listed above hails from the Idiothele group. Nope, that means very little to us either! What we do understand is that this one is a tarantula! Yep, a proper tarantula!
King baboon spiders live all across East Africa and are more common in hotter countries closer to the middle of the continent. As such, they are regularly found in Kenya and Tanzania. They were first described in those parts by the European entomologist Ferdinand Karsch way back in the 1880s, who was known as documenter of arachnids across much of Africa, but also the Pacific and even Germany.
Anyway…back to the king baboon. Capable of hitting a leg span of over 20cm (nearly 8 inches) in total, these critters are pretty hefty. They have the trademark, multi-segment leg of a tarantula, only they don’t have noticeable urticating hairs that can be used to attack. Instead, king baboons will vibrate their bodies to create a warning sound to fend off potential victims, before choosing to rush in and bite.
The bite itself is no walk in the park. It’s venomous and moderately so to humans. No deaths have been recorded to date on account of the king baboon spider, though scientists believe some have a venom that’s powerful enough to cause both localized and holistic symptoms for over 40 hours! The other thing to note about these guys is that they’re VERY temperamental. Anyone who’s ever owned one as a pet will tell you that they are moody and quick to get defensive.
Black widow (Latrodectus)
The black widow isn’t just one of the most dangerous spiders in South Africa, it’s also one of the most dangerous spiders around the whole world. Mhmm, today, the feared Latrodectus brand of arachnid can be found all over the globe. It’s known to reside on the islands of Japan and the mainland of the Americas, throughout Europe and much of Asia. It’s also here in the land of safari parks and shark-swimming coves…
The main type of black widow found in SA is the Latrodectus indistinctus. Are you sitting down? Good. These guys have garnered themselves a rep for being one of the most venomous types of black widow on the planet. They can cause severe and prolonged symptoms in human victims, including – but not limited to – slurred speech, out of control blood pressure, muscle cramps, sweating and fever, and breathing difficulties. Yikes!
Hard to spot, the Latrodectus indistinctus are rarely more than 16mm across. The women are the dangerous ones, but also the largest of the bunch (males only make it to 5mm across on average). You can identify them thanks to their jet-black, matte coloring and clear red markings that span out from the center of the underside. The only saving grace here is that they are known to be shy and non-confrontational, often preferring to play dead than bite.
Violin spider (Sicariidae)
Don’t confuse the South African violin spider with the spider of the same name that dominates over in the southern USA. Both are potentially dangerous to humans, but they are very different. While the latter is known for its violin-shaped body, this one’s got a distinctly bulbous thorax and a smaller head. Its coloring ranges from dusky black and grey to a light blueish color, while there are some specimens with bold reddish and ruddy markings striking down the back.
Predominant in the northern highland parts of the country, they mainly live between the Kruger National Park and the borderlands with Botswana, covering a whole cut-out of the nation north of Pretoria and Johannesburg. Unfortunately for would-be safari goers, that’s one of the most coveted places to go spotting the Big Five game!
The South African violin spider is known to have a strong neurotoxic and cytotoxic venom. That means it can cause some serious harm to human victims in the form of necrosis of the flesh and even interference with the nervous system. The good news is that they tend to like living in wilder parts of the nation, in forests and caves, rarely straying into built-up areas. What’s more, they are known to be particularly shy and will always try to avoid confrontation.
Rain spider (Palystes superciliosus)
Behold one of the largest species of spider in South Africa: The rain spider. Named for their habit of entering human homes just before the rains come, these guys regularly inspire fear in the populations of SA because of their sheer dimensions.
They can grow to have a full body span of nearly 50mm, which is made up of elongated legs and limbs, along with a bulbous lower thorax colored in beige and darker brown hues. They’re often mistaken for tarantulas but are actually a sub-member of the huntsman family.
The rain spider is so big that it’s known to prey on small lizards and geckos around the Western Cape and Eastern Cape of South Africa. In fact, they are also known as the lizard-eating spider in those parts. Most active in the summer months, rain spiders will mate in November, as evidenced by the appearance of their unique egg sacs around the countryside – look out for the large bundles of silken web suspended between bushes and trees. You don’t want to get too close, as the more-aggressive females of the species are often nearby and ready to pounce to defend their young.
Although rain spiders aren’t known to be venomous, they are known to be confrontational. What’s more, they are so big that they can often do physical damage to humans if they decide to attack. It’s rarely more than localized tissue rupturing with some bleeding, but it could require medical attention.
Dangerous spiders in South Africa – our conclusion
This list homes in on just five of the most dangerous spiders in South Africa. Its aim? To showcase the arachnids that could pose a potential threat when you go to explore the penguin-spotted beaches of the Garden Route or the lion-stalked hinterlands around Kruger. Don’t be too put off by the thought of being attacked by a black widow or tarantula here, though – there have, to date, been zero recorded cases of death from spider bite in these parts.