So, you’re wondering about the spiders in Egypt? We can only discern that you’re heading for a romp around the Valley of the Kings and the Giza Pyramids. Or is it a boat trip down the winding Nile River and a jaunt through the bazaars of Old Cairo?
Whatever you’re planning on doing, this guide to the spiders in Egypt has you covered on the arachnid front. It runs through five species that you might come across as you go, from the ubiquitous red house spider to the more unusual black furry tarantula.
The good news is that the spiders found here aren’t considered particularly dangerous to humans – not like many of the snakes in Egypt! Most can bite and are venomous, but they’re very rarely deadly so don’t really have the power to ruin your once-in-a-lifetime expedition to North Africa.
Camel spider (Solifugae) – by far the strangest spiders in Egypt!
Here’s the thing – camel spiders aren’t really spiders. Most people say they look more like scorpions. But they aren’t officially scorpions, either. In truth, they’re a hybrid of the two species that’s known as Solifugae. And they have the appearance to match that, too – think the elongated, segmented abdomen of a stinging scorpion but the outwardly spanning legs that are more commonly associated with spiders.
There are plenty of nuances, though. These guys sport five pairs of legs, not the traditional eight of most of the famous arachnids out there. That said, scientists only list the four back pairs as “true legs,” since the front two are used mainly for sensory purposes and are of the utmost importance in navigation and seeking out prey. Unlike spiders, these guys only have one pair of eyes, and they are located centrally on the top of the head. Bodies are usually moderately hairy and almost always a brownish tan color – perfect for blending into the wild desert landscapes of central Egypt!
Solifugae have inspired myths and legends since way back when. The ancients called them four-mouthed spiders. Reports of them plaguing and terrorizing whole populations of rural people in the deserts of southern Egypt abound in some texts. There are even tales of oversized camel spiders the same size of a dog.
Thankfully, that’s all exaggeration. We now know that camel spiders aren’t really all that dangerous to humans. They can bite but it’s not venomous. In fact, these guys posses no venom and have no way of injecting venom into prey anyhow. In Egypt, they tend to be quite rare to boot, usually only emerging from their burrows at night or during strong sandstorms – when most of us will be sleeping or cowering in the hotel suite!
Black tarantula (Chaetopelma olivaceum)
Chaetopelma olivaceum is also invariably called the Middle East black tarantula, or the Middle East gold. They are very common all across the Eastern Mediterranean, particularly in the Levant of Israel. There, they are known to frequent homes from Gaza all the way to Haifa in the north, where they are often welcomed by residents for their apparent penchant for devouring pests like cockroaches.
One glance at them and we’re not so sure you’d be calm and quiet about them appearing in your abode. These guys can grow to a whopping 5cm across at full adulthood. That puts them among the largest spiders in Europe and North Africa as a whole. They’re usually – as the name implies – colored a deep, dark black hue, which actually gets even darker the further south in the range you go (ahem…Egypt!).
Black tarantulas can bite but it’s rare. Most of the time, when threatened, they’ll simply lift their front fangs, emit a distinctive hissing sound, and then turn to find cover somewhere safe. They’re typically active at night only and can live in populous colonies of thousands of individuals. Interestingly for visitors to Egypt, they’ve been known to occupy the dry, dank recesses of ancient tombs, so keep watch as you tour the Valley of the Kings and the like!
Brown widow spider (Latrodectus geometricus)
Brown widow spiders have done pretty darn well for themselves. Largely present in subtropical and tropical destinations in the Americas, they’ve since spread to establish populations all over North America, from Southern California to Texas, along with islands in the Pacific, and destinations in the European Mediterranean. Egypt can also be added to that list – Latrodectus geometricus are now common occurrences in homes from Cairo to Alexandria.
Similar in shape and size to their black widow cousins, these ones have a big thorax that’s marked with distinctive patterns. They usually have a light brown color scheme that alternates between pockmarks and geometric shapes, along with a black head that’s much smaller than the rest of the body. The underside is the most distinctive part of all – notice the often bold outline of a red or ochre hourglass shape there.
Brown widow spiders are venomous. In fact, there have been studies that show they posses a venom that’s many times more potent than the black widow. But that’s not quite the full story – AKA, no need to panic just yet! It’s also thought that brown widow spiders aren’t able to inject anywhere near the same amount into victims as their compadres, which often results in much weaker bite effects and symptoms.
If you do fall prey to one of these during your jaunt to the Giza Pyramids or the eye-watering temples of Luxor, the most likely outcome is nothing but a raised, reddish bump at the site of contact. Anyone suffering more severe, full-body symptoms such as nausea or vomiting is potentially allergic and should seek medical attention without delay.
Black widow spider (Latrodectus)
Yep – Egypt has its own population of the black widow spider. That’s to be expected, though, since this uber-ubiquitous arachnid now has populations and sub-species on every single continent on the planet apart from the icy swathes of Antarctica. There are some subtle differences between the ones you’re likely to come across in the land of Sphinxes and Red Sea reefs compared to the redbacks of Oz and the widows of California. However, the general appearance is the same…
Think a big, bulbous back of the body that’s jet black all over, fronted by a smaller head and flanked by back and front legs that gnarl forward to form spiky ends. The whole creature usually measures no more than 10-15mm across, and it’s the females of the species that are the most iconic of the lot. They’re the ones with the distinct red blotches on the thorax and the shiny outer hue.
Widow spiders display some strange behavior, even for the world of arachnids. The name comes from the fact that the women tend to eat their mate after reproducing in order to maximize the chances of the offspring’s survival. They catch prey by wrapping them in encasings of silken fiber and then dousing the whole thing in digestive fluid, turning flies and whatnot to mush before they’re sucked straight into the stomach.
The one thing to note about these guys is that they are venomous. Yep, Egypt’s black widows can deliver one of the most potent bites in the spider world. That said, dangerous bites are rare – only a fraction of victims are thought to experience the worst holistic effects of muscle pains and cramps. Most simply feel pain at the site of contact and some swelling in the immediate area. Be sure to seek medical attention if in doubt, though!
Common red house spider (Nesticodes)
We defy you to find a populous modern country in Europe, North America, or North Africa where the common red house spider doesn’t exist. They clue is in the name – these guys are “common” for a reason! Today, they’re one of the few species of arachnid that’s officially known as pantropical, meaning they inhabit tropical places on both sides of the globe.
The looks of a red house spider can vary from place to place, but it does follow a general trend wherever you are. You’re looking for a small creature that usually grows to no more than a couple of millimeters from tip to tail, with eight darker legs that fan out from the front and back at equidistance. The color – of course – is red; a deep, musky red, not a bright scarlet.
Once again, as the name implies, these guys like to live in homes and sheds and any other form of human-built habitation. That means you’re most likely to come across them in bigger Egyptian cities like Cairo and Alexandria and Luxor. They are considered venomous but not really to humans. Bites rarely cause any symptoms and seldom result in the need for medical treatment.
The most unusual spiders In Egypt – our conclusion
The good news is that the spiders in Egypt aren’t anywhere near as exotic or dangerous as the snakes that live in the land of pyramids and winding Nile waters. You get the usual suspects in the form of black and brown widows, but also one particularly intriguing type of furry tarantula. There are also strange camel spiders, which we’re not even sure deserve to be on this list since they’re technically a mix of scorpions and spiders!