Bad news for arachnophobes, but over 1000 species of spiders live in France. These eight-legged critters inhabit the whole country from the islands to the cities to the alps. But the good news is that most of them are completely harmless to humans and actually help keep other pests at bay.
However, there are a few that you should watch out for. France has two species of venomous spiders that can be deadly to humans. Plus, it’s home to Europe’s largest spider, a species that pretends to be more dangerous than it really is, and a few species that are just plain interesting.
So if you want to know which arachnids you might encounter on your travels, read on. We’ve compiled a list of seven of the most common, venomous, and interesting spiders you might find living in France.
European Garden Spider
Let’s start with one you will almost definitely come across, the European garden spider, a member of the orb-weaving family, one of the most common families of spiders you’ll find in France. These spiders live out of doors in long grasses and foliage. They spin their orb-shaped webs between the stems of long grasses and then hang in the center of the web, awaiting unsuspecting prey. When insects fly into the web and get entangled, the spider will pounce and deliver a venomous bite. This venom will paralyze the prey and begin liquifying its insides to aid the spider’s digestion. Lovely.
As deeply unpleasant as that all sounds, these spiders pose no threat to humans. They are generally wary of human interaction and would only bite as an extreme last resort to a prolonged threat. Even then, their venom is not harmful to humans, so you’re at no risk of paralysis or liquified insides!
These spiders are not large. The females only reach around 0.75 inches long, but their bodies can be quite bulbous, and they can give a nasty shock to anyone who inadvertently walks through their web. So keep an eye out in bushy or wilderness areas.
Giant House Spider
Another common arachnid that you’re likely to encounter is the giant house spider, regularly found in homes across France. But don’t let the name scare you. This spider is no real giant, in fact, it’s not even the largest spider on our list. These spiders have quite small bodies, around 0.7 inches long, but their legs can reach a span of almost 3 inches.
They build funnel-shaped webs in which they hide to await the arrival of unsuspecting prey. These webs can be found in caves, forests, and outhouses but are also commonly found in homes hence the spider’s name. They build their webs in out-of-the-way corners such as between ceiling beams, in the crevices between window sills, and in disused areas such as cellars and storage rooms.
If you disturb the web of a giant house spider, you might get a shock as it scurries away, especially since this is one of the fastest spiders in France. But don’t worry, they are harmless to humans and will hide from any form of confrontation. And they’re actually quite helpful because they keep away the smaller but – some say – more dangerous Hobo Spider which refuses to live anywhere that the giant house spider resides.
The hobo spider has similar habits to the giant house spider and so will not share a habitat with it, since it views the other species as a direct competitor. So, since the house spider is commonly found in homes and man-made structures across France and Europe, the hobo spider is more often found living outdoors in log piles, rubble, and sometimes outhouses.
Like the house spider, they are not aggressive and will hide or run from confrontation with humans rather than becoming defensive. But there has been some debate over the years about the danger posed by hobo spiders. For a while, they were thought to have a nasty venom similar to that of the recluse spider. However it has since been suggested that the bites that caused this concern were misidentified, and the hobo was probably not responsible. So, the hobo spider has been forgiven and is no longer considered dangerous. But, perhaps steer clear, just to be on the safe side!
Brown Recluse Spider
A spider that is venomous and which was perhaps the one responsible for the hobo spider’s bad reputation is the Brown Recluse Spider. The recluse spider is the first of the two dangerous spiders on our list, and it is perhaps the most dangerous spider in France.
Luckily, the recluse spider is rare in France, and as its name might suggest, it is somewhat shy. This spider prefers to live in hidden corners and disused crevices and will hide from people if given a chance. So it is not the nature of the spider nor its high numbers that make this spider so dangerous, but the nasty effects of its venom.
Recluse spiders’ venom is necrotic, which means it causes tissue death. Although the bite is not initially painful, victims often later experience large, spreading areas of infected and decaying tissue surrounding the bitten area. This decaying tissue will continue to spread if it’s not treated effectively so it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. The tissue often needs to be surgically removed which can leave deep scarring. In the worst cases, the infected limb may need to be amputated.
Bites are rare, but they tend to occur when the recluse spider is accidentally pressed up against a person’s skin and bites in self-defense. This happens thanks to the spider’s tendency to hide inside shoes, clothing, and bedsheets. So if holidaying in France, take care to shake out clothes and linens before using them.
Black Widow Spider
The second dangerous spider on our list is perhaps the most famous of all arachnids, the black widow. Specifically, the European or Mediterranean black widow, which differs slightly from those found in North and South America. One of these differences is that its venom is slightly less potent, although a bite from the Mediterranean black widow can still cause severe effects. Symptoms include pain, swelling, fever, abdominal pain, muscle spasms, and breathing trouble. The venom is rarely deadly in healthy adults however, if the victim is a child, elderly, or has an underlying health concern, the risks are higher, and emergency medical treatment should be found.
Black widows are rarely found inside homes in France but prefer to live outside in areas of long grass, wheatfields, and amidst disused machinery. They were once confined to the warmest areas of Corsica and the far south of mainland France but recent sightings prove that they are moving further north. You’ll recognize the Mediterranean black widow by the distinctive markings on its back. Rather than the hourglass markings of the classic black widow, the Mediterranean widow has a cluster of thirteen dots on its back which can be white, orange, yellow or most often red.
They are not aggressive by nature, and bites are rare. When they occur, it’s usually because someone accidentally disturbed their web and the widow reacted defensively. This can happen on farms where harvests are done by hand or when people are moving seldom-used farm equipment or containers. So, if you find yourself doing agricultural jobs such as these, be sure to wear thick gloves.
False Widow Spider
There are only two venomous spiders to worry about in France, but the false widow spiders will often cause concern if spotted. These spiders were named because of their resemblance to the dangerous black widows but they do not contain the same ability to hurt humans.
These spiders grow to roughly the same size as black widows and have the same shiny black legs and bodies. They also have similar markings that are easily mistaken for the black widow at first glance. However, real black widows in France have thirteen spots on their backs ranging from white to yellow, orange, or most commonly red. False widows might have markings in any of these colors too, but they’ll be in a different pattern of stripes and bands or perhaps a single spot.
While this distinction is helpful in theory, we fully understand if you don’t fancy getting close enough to check. In fact, our best advice is to keep your distance from any spider that you think might be a widow. However, if you are bitten by one, it can be extremely helpful to trap the spider and take it with you to medical services, so they’ll know for sure what they are dealing with.
Tarantula Wolf Spider
Ok, here comes the big one! The tarantula wolf spider is not only the biggest spider in France but in all of Europe. It has a body reaching 1.5 inches long and long thick legs with a span of around three inches. Despite this size and their rather fearsome name, these spiders are not actually dangerous, and you do not need to be concerned about them. They do have venom, which enables them to paralyze their prey, but it is not dangerous to humans and would cause a little more pain than a wasp sting.
You’re also unlikely to come across them while holidaying in France because, despite a wide-ranging habitat that takes in much of Europe, these spiders are rarely seen. Like most of the wolf spider family, they live alone and dig burrows rather than spinning webs. They spend much of their lives in these burrows, emerging by night to ambush any passing prey but rarely heading out for other reasons. They have excellent eyesight and will run and hide at the approach of large predators or humans. They are notoriously hard to catch, so you are unlikely to come across or provoke one by accident.
Are there poisonous spiders in France?
There are two species of dangerous spiders in France, however, they are venomous rather than poisonous. Poisonous refers to creatures that are dangerous when you eat them, but venomous creatures produce toxic venom and are dangerous when they bite you. Both the black widow and the brown recluse spiders produce potent venom and are hazardous to humans.
What is the biggest spider in France?
The tarantula wolf spider is the biggest spider in France. Its body can grow to around 1.5 inches long, and it can have a leg span of 3 inches. It’s harmless however and poses no threat to humans.
Are there black widow spiders in France?
Yes, there are black widow spiders in France. The Mediterranean or European back widow once lived only in the most southern areas of mainland France and Corsica but has been spotted living further and further north.