Zimbabwe is a varied and enchanting country in south-central Africa, known for its dramatic waterfalls, expansive lakes, and big game national parks. The Zambezi River tumbles down 100 meters at Victoria Falls into the Batoka Gorge, while the Matusadona and Mana Pools national parks are home to rhinos, crocodiles, hippos, and birdlife. But one thing you might be wondering about before visiting Zimbabwe is its creepy crawlies.
Africa is home to at least 20 native species of spider, from hairy tarantulas to finger-nail-sized button spiders, and Zimbabwe is no stranger to arachnids. In fact, five poisonous spiders can be found on the African continent, most of which have been spotted in the landlocked country, so are spiders in Zimbabwe something to worry about?
Our guide runs through 7 of the most common spiders in Zimbabwe and everything you need to know about them from their habitats to their prey and just how dangerous they are. Arachnophobes, you’ve been warned. Let’s get into it.
Otherwise known by the genus Argiope, orb-weavers are widely distributed across the globe from gardens in the UK to sand dune shrubland and mangrove habitats in Southeast Asia. In fact, they’re found worldwide, everywhere apart from Antarctica and the Arctic. In North America, there are 180 species of orb-weaver alone, and there are 16 listed for Southern Africa.
These small spiders are usually distinguished by their yellow banded legs and bodies, and the large webs they spin to catch prey. One species of orb-weaver, the Argiope flavipalpis, or West African orb-weaver, is well-known in Zimbabwe. As well as gold bands, it also has a distinctly rounded abdomen, usually with small protrusions, giving it a horned or knobbly appearance.
Garden orb-weavers, also known as golden orb-weavers due to the sunshine hue of their expansive webs, are common in Zimbabwe too. The female genus of the golden ord-weaver can have an abdomen as long as 30 mm, dwarfing the 5 mm males in both size and weight. These orb-weavers are also distinguished by the reddish tint of their spindly banded legs.
Despite being sometimes frightening to stumble across – with their bright colors, horned abdomens, and magnificent webs all raising red flags – orb-weavers pose a very minimal threat to humans, carrying venom that is not potent enough to harm people or our pets. A bite from a golden orb-weaver could cause localized pain, numbness and swelling, and more rarely, nausea and dizziness, but orb-weavers seldom bite, and if they do, you shouldn’t require medical treatment.
Rear-Horned Baboon Spider
Officially Ceratogyrus darlingi, the rear-horned baboon spider belongs to a genus of tarantulas found throughout Southern and Central Africa. Unlike orb-weavers, this is not the kind of critter you’d want to stumble upon in your backyard.
These tarantulas are large and distinctive, with females growing up to five inches (12.7 cm) in length and living for 10 to 12 years on average. As is commonplace in the spider world, males don’t grow nearly as large, but can still reach lengths of three inches (7.5 cm), maturing at around two years.
Although scary, the rear-horned baboon is an incredible spider, getting its common name from the black horn that grows on its carapace, slanting towards the rear end of the spider. Scientists are yet to conclude the purpose of this horn, but it makes this unique tarantula easy to distinguish. Other visual characteristics include their ash-gray, mud-brown to black hairy bodies, and thick, hairy legs.
The rear-horned baboon spider is an Old World species, hailing from savannah ecosystems in Botswana, Mozambique, and of course, Zimbabwe. The spider favors the hot and dry seasons as well as the rainy ones of subtropical savannah regions. This is because rear-horned baboon spiders are burrowers, and are always able to find regulated moisture and temperate conditions underground.
As Old World tarantulas tend to be, the rear-horned baboon spider is characteristically aggressive, defensive, and quick. They carry venom and can be fast to inject it when they feel threatened. The venom might only be mildly toxic, but it could still pose a serious threat to the very young, the very old, or the sick.
Bites might first feel like a bee sting, but the venom can attack your nervous system and there’s always the risk of infection in untreated bites. Oftentimes, tarantulas aren’t as daunting as they appear, but rear-horned baboon spiders in Zimbabwe should be given a wide berth.
Pink Crab Spider
Pink crab spiders are peculiar little spiders found all across Europe, North Africa, parts of the Middle East, and Asia. As the name implies, they are pink, shiny, yellow, or white in color, sometimes with brighter median stripes, but they’re most distinguishable by their globular abdomen and their prominent rear corners, resembling a very small crab more than a traditional spider. Their legs are also positioned crab-wise and they can move backward and sideways as well as forwards.
Pink crab spiders stalk flower beds, disguised among petals, and are usually only found in flora or nearby vegetation. They can actually change color from white to yellow or pink depending on the flower on which they dwell, but good luck spotting one, as adult males tend to reach body lengths of just 2-4mm, and females, 7-10mm.
They can survive in temperate and tropical ecozones all around the world, but prefer warm temperatures, forest-free foliage, sunny grasslands, and dry, sandy habitats. Pink spider crabs are surprisingly venomous for their tiny size and can capture insects much bigger than them including crickets, grasshoppers, and wasps. They don’t weave webs and are mostly ambush predators.
Despite being venomous, they’re too small to be dangerous to humans. Still, you could feel localized pain from a bite for a few hours, although bites are rare.
Black widows are one of four species of button spiders that occur in Zimbabwe and the most dangerous of the genus. Button spiders carry neurotoxic venom, which means it attacks the central nervous system of its victims, but only the black widow’s venom is potent enough to prove lethal in humans.
Despite their small size, black widows have large fangs that are able to pierce human skin and make painful bites that produce immediate symptoms. However, black widows aren’t generally aggressive, unless they feel threatened. In fact, they’re timid and will retreat to avoid humans if they can. They don’t seek out humans to bite, but will only do so in self-defense, for example, if a human stumbles into their web unexpectedly and startles them.
Black widows are surprisingly small, considering their fierce reputation. Most are only around the size of a small fingernail, with females – the bigger species – reaching up to just 15mm in body length. They’re defined by their black or brown rotund abdomens, and the signature blood-red hourglass design on the underside – nature’s marker of their potent venom.
Although black widow bites can be dangerous, fatalities are rare since bites are easy to treat. Different people respond in different ways, but if severe pain from a bite lasts longer than a few hours, worsens over time, or causes intense muscle cramps, vomiting, or any loss of sensation in your body, you should seek immediate medical attention. Allergic reactions also need treatment as patients could go into anaphylactic shock.
Grey Baboon Tarantula
Another member of the Ceratogyrus genus, the grey baboon spider is a type of tarantula found throughout Malawi and Mozambique, but this species is originally native to Zimbabwe. Grey baboons, or the gray mustard baboon as they’re also called, are Old World fossorial spiders with subtle black and yellow coloring and considerable size.
The distinctive beauty of this tarantula comes from its shield-liked carapace, complete with an intricate pattern that’s unique to each spider. But they get their name from their hairy appearance, with the spider’s “feet” (the tips of their legs) resembling the grey color and pad-like texture of a baboon’s finger. These spiders grow to over five inches (12 – 13 cm), with a lifespan of 10 to 12 years in females and just two to three years for males.
They favor desert and grassland savannah but are mostly ground-dwelling. Grey baboon spiders are nocturnal ambush predators, but spend most of their time inside burrows and are never spotted too far away from one. You might even spot their grey furry “feet”, or tarsi, at the mouth of their burrows as they lie in wait for prey.
Grey baboon tarantulas are an Old World species and so are characteristically temperamental. They often display feisty behavior, especially when in captivity. Any disturbance will usually force a grey baboon tarantula to retreat to its burrow, but if they feel any further threat, they could inflict a sudden and painful bite.
Their large fangs carry potent venom that consists of a neurotoxin that will produce extreme pain at the site of a bite in humans and has the potential to trigger vomiting, symptoms of shock and difficulty walking. If you suspect that you’ve suffered a bite from a grey baboon tarantula, it’s wise to seek medical attention as soon as possible, even if just to have the wound cleaned and prevent infection.
The common rain spider is a species of huntsman that’s ingenious to South-central Africa and sub-Saharan regions. It’s one of the most widespread species of huntsman that can be found in India, Australia, and the Pacific. Although they prefer scrubland and savannah woodland, they’re also attracted to warm, dark spaces like wall cracks, air vents, and cellar corners in the home.
Rain spiders are also called lizard-eating spiders, and unsurprisingly, their prey consists of a variety of insects including flies, moths, grasshoppers, crickets, and of course, lizards. Don’t let their names completely fool you though. Rain spiders are not fans of wet weather and actually get their most common nickname because of their habit to seek shelter from the rain inside human habitations.
They might be scary looking with their sharp and skinny, black, yellow, and white banded legs, but they’re not dangerous. You might be opposed to the idea of living among spiders, especially in an unfamiliar country like Zimbabwe, but rain spiders could actually be very helpful exterminators of mosquitos and other unwanted insects in the home.
Rain spiders reach a small body length of 15-36mm, with a leg span of 110mm. They don’t bite easily, with the exception of disturbed females defending their nests. Rain spiders don’t carry venom, and although a bite could be painful, symptoms should fade in a few hours.
The brown widow, or the Rhodesian widow, is another species of button spider that dwells in Zimbabwe, but it’s far less formidable than the black widow. This tropical spider is tan in color, typically boasting wide white or yellow bands on its legs, and a similar hourglass marking to the black widow on the underside of its abdomen, but usually in orange or yellow.
Females tend to be darker and larger than males, so can be hard to distinguish from black widow spiders, but both species are smaller than their ferocious counterparts. Female brown widows typically reach around 12mm in body length, and males just 6-8mm.
The adult female brown widow is also poisonous, while the male is not. In fact, brown widow females are just as poisonous as black widows and can inflict a painful and potentially harmful bite. However, brown widows are less aggressive than black widows, so bites on humans are less commonplace.
Brown widows are native to South Africa, but they have near-worldwide distribution since they are easily disguised in shipping containers of fruit and produce, and shipped across the globe. Brown widows tend to build webs near dwellings and in brush piles, but also in savannah woodland.
Is Zimbabwe safe?
For the most part, Zimbabwe is a safe country to visit, but it does demonstrate high rates of petty and violent crime, as well as vulnerability to natural disasters. It’s also home to some dangerous wildlife. Main tourist routes are largely safe and safaris are well-regulated, but you should still always be aware that you’re surrounded by wild animals. Be sure to never venture off the beaten track without a guide in Zimbabwe.
What is the most dangerous animal in Zimbabwe?
Although Zimbabwe is home to venomous spiders and ferocious wild cats, hippos are one the most deadly animals in Zimbabwe and are responsible for around 50 attacks a year on humans. Hippos cause more deaths in Africa than any other animal with their aggressive temperaments and incredible strength. Still, mosquitos take the top spot, killing more than 100,000 Africans and infecting over 300,000 people in Zimbabwe with Malaria every year.
Does Zimbabwe have poisonous snakes?
Along with venomous spiders and aggressive big game, Zimbabwe is also home to several snake species, many of which are poisonous. Of the 80 different snakes that live in Zimbabwe, 20 are considered very dangerous, but just six of these species are responsible for 75 percent of the fatal snake bites in the country. These deadly serpents include the black mamba, the snouted cobra, the Mozambique spitting cobra, the puff adder, the boomslang, and the Gaboon viper.