From the green hills of Tuscany to the aquamarine waters of the Amalfi Coast to the jagged ridges of the Dolomites, Italy is one breathtaking place. Its diverse natural landscape is home to a great range of animals, from gray wolves to brown bears to rare European lynxes. The country also plays host to many creepy crawlies, including more than 1,000 species of spiders in Italy!
But don’t despair arachnophobes! While there are stacks of spiders in Italy, the vast majority are completely harmless. In fact, there are only three species of spiders here that are worth worrying about – the Mediterranean recluse spider, the yellow sac spider, and the Mediterranean black widow. What’s more, these spiders are not aggressive in nature, and it’s extremely rare for their bites to cause fatalities.
Colorful, hairy, stripy, bulbous, spiders in Italy come in all shapes and sizes. In this guide, we’ll peer through the microscope to take a look at nine of the most intriguing, most common, and – of course – the most dangerous of the bunch.
Mediterranean recluse spider (Loxosceles rufescens)
The Ragno Violino – or, simply, the violin spider in English – is one of the three venomous spiders found in Italy. Also known as the Mediterranean recluse spider, it has a clear violin-shaped marking on its body, hence the name. Curiously, it also sports six eyes rather than the usual eight.
As their name suggests, these spiders are antisocial. They tend to lurk in dark, enclosed spaces – think damp sheds, caves, and under piles of wood. Violin spiders feed on a diet of cockroaches and termites. They can be found throughout Italy and, in 2018, they even caused alarm by showing up in Southern Rome districts.
Violin spiders carry a venomous bite that has a necrotic effect on their prey. This means it leads to the death of cell tissue. Usually, their venom is not powerful enough to do any meaningful damage to humans. Occasionally, their bites cause hospitalization, and while fatalities from their bites are extremely rare, they have been known to happen. (In 2016, a woman died after being bitten on her middle finger by a violin spider.)
Mediterranean black widow spider (Latrodectus tredecimguttatus)
The Mediterranean black widow spider, known locally as malmignatta in Italy, is another species of poisonous spider found in the land of pizza and pasta. You probably already know them for their unique appearance…Male black widows have black bodies with thirteen red spots on their abdomen and long spindly legs, but can also be orange or yellow in color.
But it’s the all-black female spiders that you need to look out for. The female black widow spiders pack a nasty, venomous bite that can provoke convulsions and a lowering of body temperature in humans. While their bite is rarely fatal, it can be particularly dangerous to children, elderly people, and those with compromised cardiac systems.
Mediterranean black widow spiders live in the Italian countryside and can usually be found amongst shrubs, grasslands, barren rocky terrain, and in small crevices between rocks and in old walls. Luckily, these spiders very rarely venture inside, nor do they have an aggressive nature, so it’s extremely unlikely that they’ll disturb your trip to Italia!
Tarantula wolf spider (Lycosa tarantula)
Yep, there’s a species of tarantula in Italy! These hairy creepy crawlies are popularly known as tarantula wolf spiders, or the Lycosa tarantula in scientific terms. As you’d imagine, they’re rather large, with females hitting up to 30mm (1.18 inches) in body length and the males around 19mm (0.75 inches).
They are a nocturnal species and generally lurk at the mouths of their burrows waiting for prey. Like all the other spiders in this article, they are non-aggressive, and typically try to avoid humans at all costs. They also hibernate during the whole winter, so don’t expect an encounter during the Italian low season months between November and March.
Tarantula wolf spiders can be found throughout southern Europe, but particularly in the Apulia region of Italy and near the city of Taranto. Tarantula wolf spiders play a central role in the folklore of this part of Southern Italy. In the 11th century, their bites were popularly believed to be highly venomous and lead to a hysterical condition known as tarantism – characterized by heightened excitability and restlessness. There is even a dance dedicated to them, called the Tarantella, which is thought to have originated as a therapy for those inflicted by tarantism!
Yellow sac spider (Cheiracanthium)
Next on our list of spiders in Italy is the yellow sac spider. Also known as the thorn finger, these spiders tend to be around 20mm long, with orangey-red underbellies and pale yellowbacks. They are found in the countryside and mountains of Veneto, Calabria, and Tuscany. During the summertime, they like to hang out on trees, shrubs, and in fields. Unlike most of their arachnid mates, yellow sac spiders don’t spin webs. Instead, they construct sacs in protected areas, which is the reason behind the name.
Yellow sac spiders pack a nasty bite and can become aggressive when disturbed. Most bites occur when they become trapped in clothing. Their venom is neurotoxic and cytotoxic, with bites that have a similar effect as wasp stings. That means the skin becomes swollen, itchy, numb and a red-bluish color. More severe cases can include chills, fever, headache, and nausea. But while painful, yellow sac spider bites are very rarely life-threatening.
Trapdoor spider (Ctenizidae)
Italy is also home to a large population of trapdoor spiders. This species is found all around the world, from the United States to Japan. They are close relatives of tarantulas and are similar in appearance, but are smaller in size, with fewer hair on their abdomens, and legs that shine as if they have been polished.
Trap-door spiders also don’t spin webs. Instead, they construct burrows in the ground. As their name suggests, they build a silken-hinged trap door sort of gizmo at the entrance of their burrows that open quickly when an insect is passing close by to seize prey. Their nests are usually found among the roots of olive trees, which makes Italy just about the perfect home nation!
Trapdoor spider bites are nothing to worry about. As an avoidant and non-aggressive species, they very rarely attack humans. However, they have been known to stand up and present their fangs when provoked. Their bites can be painful, causing local pain and swelling. But the pain should dissipate within a few hours leaving very little damage.
Wasp spider (Argiope bruennichi)
If you come across an insect in Italy that looks like a wasp without wings, it’s probably a wasp spider. Wasp spiders are a species of orb-web spider found throughout Central Europe, Northern Europe, North Africa, and parts of Asia. They are large spiders, particularly the female ones, which grow up to 17mm, compared to males which average 4-6mm.
Their striking appearance mimics the yellow and black tones of a wasp, an evolutionary advantage that keeps them safe from predators. It’s very convincing, with alternating black stripes crossing a bold yellow body. The whole thing even comes to a point at the end, mimicking the location of a wasp’s stinger.
In spite of their intimidating appearance, wasp spiders are completely harmless. They use venom to immobilize and kill their prey, but it’s not harmful to humans and they basically never ever attack us. Unlike real wasps, eh!
False widow spiders (Steatoda grossa)
Steatoda grossa is a species of spider in Italy that is so commonly mistaken for a black widow that they are popularly known as false widows. They have a similar shape to widow spiders with round, bulbous abdomens. Female false widows measure up to 15mm, while males measure up to 10mm, just the same as their feared compadres. However, you can tell a false widow apart from a black widow by noticing their coloring – unlike the very venomous black widow, the false widow is brown in color.
False widows are less harmful to humans than black widows, but their bite can still be fairly nasty. It’s only the larger, female false widows that bites, and their venom is fairly weak and non-toxic to humans. Often, the symptoms are no worse than a bee sting.
What’s more, false widows are non-aggressive and tend to flee from human contact. They will only attack when they feel threatened. During the winter months, false widows like to congregate indoors for shelter and warmth, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for any small crevices and cupboards during this time of year.
Pink crab spider (Thomisus onustus)
Yes, we got the name right! The pink crab spider is actually a native European and North African arachnid that can now be found in lowland areas, especially wildflower meadows and coastal woods, from Iberia all the way to the heart of Asia. It’s present all over Italy, too, except in the highest altitude regions up in the Alps.
They’re a mid-sized critter that can grow to around 11mm at full adulthood. The women are the sex that give the species the moniker, since they’re colored a light Barbie-esque pink all over, with just a few lines of bright mustard yellow crossing the middle of the thorax. The men aren’t quite so bold and gaudy at all, coming with a light forest green hue and darker limbs.
Aside from the dazzling coloring, these guys are notable for their eating habits. Some crab spiders are thought to be able to emit beams of UV light to attract prey, though that’s not something scientists have observed in European members of the genus just yet. Others will hide atop the openings of flowers and wait for flies and butterflies to whiz in to grab the pollen, which is when they strike.
Raft spider (Dolomedes fimbriatus)
There are two types of so-called raft spiders present in Italy and the rest of Europe, the regular raft spider and the larger great raft spider, which is now sadly listed as endangered in several corners of the continent. They’re called as such because they are one of the few arachnids in the region that is officially semi-aquatic, and they actually do most of their hunting on the surface of open water.
Generally speaking, they prefer hot, lowland swamps, bogs, and lakes, of which Italy has plenty, from the wetlands of the Po River Valley all the way to the iconic jet-setter waters of Como and Garda in the north. They’re easy to spot, too, with a 15mm body and hair-sprouting limbs that join a torso that’s marked with clear white lines on the sides.
Raft spiders are thought to have a minor venom but they very, very rarely bite humans due to the fact that they prefer aquatic habitats. That said, we certainly wouldn’t want to be a male raft spider – it’s common knowledge that the female of this species is sexually cannibalistic, meaning they regularly eat the man immediately after – or even during! – mating.
Spiders in Italy – our conclusion
There are something like 1,600 individual species of spiders in Italy. That means you’re pretty darn likely to come across one of these eight-legged critters during your travels in the land of pizza, pasta, and saffron risotto. The good news is that there aren’t all that many dangerous spiders in this part of the world. It comes down to the usual culprits – the black widow, the violin spider, and a couple of others. The vast majority of arachnids on the boot are actually totally harmless to humans, plus they prefer to live in rural areas, away from the busier towns and cities and resorts where most of us will visit.
Are there poisonous spiders in Italy?
There are a number of poisonous spiders in Italy. The most dangerous species include the Mediterranean black widow, the violin spider (known locally as the ragno violino), and the yellow sac spider. All three of these species carry venom that is toxic to humans. However, while their bites are certainly painful, fatality by spider bite is extremely rare in Italy.
How big are the spiders in Italy?
There are a number of fairly large spiders in Italy. The tarantula wolf spider grows up to 30mm, while the wasp spider can be as large as 17mm. However, you don’t tend to get spiders as large as in tropical destinations, and there are no hand-sized spiders to worry about at all.
Do you get tarantulas in Italy?
Italy is home to one species of tarantula, called the tarantula wolf spider. Wolf spiders are much smaller and less hairy than most tarantula species. These spiders inhabit south Italy, particularly the Apulia region and near the city of Taranto. They have become the stuff of legends in this part of Italy, with their bites historically believed to be highly venomous and lead to a hysterical condition known as tarantism.