Italy is a country of stunning natural beauty, from the green hills of Tuscany to the aquamarine waters of the Amalfi coast. Its diverse natural landscape is home to a great range of animals such as gray wolves, brown bears, and lynxes. The country also plays host to many creepy crawlies: there are more than 1,000 species of spiders in Italy.
Don’t despair arachnophobes! While there are plenty of spiders in Italy, the vast majority are completely harmless. In fact, there are only three species of spiders worth worrying about – the Mediterranean recluse spider, the yellow sac spider, and the Mediterranean Black Widow. Even still, 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. Join us as we discuss7 interesting species of spiders to look out for on your trip to Italy.
The Ragno Violino – the Mediterranean recluse spider
The Ragno Violino – the violin spider in English – is one of the three venomous spiders found in Italy. Also known as the Mediterranean recluse spider, the ragno violino has a dark violin-shaped body, with six eyes rather than 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 – in 2018, they 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 causes the cell tissue to die. 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. This was the first death by violin spider bite recorded in Europe. Violin spiders are non-aggressive by nature and tend to avoid humans.
The Mediterranean Black Widow Spider
The Mediterranean Black Widow spider, known locally as The Malmignatta, is another species of poisonous spider found in Italy. 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 to humans, it can be particularly dangerous to children, elderly people, and those with weak hearts.
Mediterranean black widow spiders live in the Italian countryside and can 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 will disturb your trip to Italy!
Tarantula Wolf Spider
A species of tarantula also calls Italy home. These hairy creepy crawlies are popularly known as tarantula wolf spiders, or the Lycosa tarantula in scientific terms. These spiders are rather large, the females being as large as 30 mm (1.18 in) in body length and the males around 19 mm (0.75 in). They are a nocturnal species and generally lurk at the mouths of their burrows waiting for prey. And 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 winter, so if you visit Southern Italy during these months it’s unlikely that you will come across them.
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! If you’re interested in learning more about this, it’s worth watching Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown season 10, episode 9, where the late chef visits the colorful region to immerse himself in the local culture.
But while tarantula wolf spiders are celebrated and feared in local cultural traditions, in reality, these tarantulas are harmless. They do carry venom, but it’s not particularly toxic to humans. On the rare occasion that they do attack, their bite is no more painful than the sting of a bee.
Yellow sac spider
Next on our list of spiders in Italy is the yellow sac spider. Also known as ‘thorn finger,’ these spiders tend to be around 20 mm long, with orange-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.
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: 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.
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’ at the entrance of their burrows that they open quickly when an insect is passing close by to seize their prey. Their nests are usually found among the roots of olive trees.
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.
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 that is 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 between 4 and 6mm. Their striking appearance mimics the yellow and black tones of a wasp, an evolutionary advantage that keeps them safe from predators.
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.
False Widow Spiders
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 15 millimeters while males measure up to 10 millimeters. 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 bite, 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.
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. They are all non-aggressive and avoidant by nature, and only attack when disturbed. The vast majority of people enjoy their trip to Italy without encountering any poisonous spiders!
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.
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 in 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. In reality, they are fairly harmless – their venom is very weak, with bites no more painful than a bee’s sting.