Hawaii is a bucket-list destination for many, offering Jurassic Park-style scenery and irresistible island escapes. But like many tropical destinations, the archipelago is home to its fair share of critters and creepy crawlies. Spiders in Hawaii come in all shapes and sizes, so arachnophobes beware!
Due to Hawaii’s unique geographical position, far-flung in the Pacific Ocean, there are lots of species that are native to the island. Add to this the lush rainforests and breathtaking natural landscapes that make the perfect habitat for our eight-legged friends, and you’ll understand why so many species thrive here.
Despite this, serious or life-threatening spider bites are still incredibly on these islands, so don’t let the thought of them put you off visiting. However, if you are planning a trip to Hawaii, it can be helpful to know some of the more dangerous species to keep an eye out for, just in case. So, here are 11 scary species of spiders in Hawaii…
Southern black widow
Often the most feared of all the arachnids, the southern black widow is a variant most often found in the tropics. Females are a shiny black color with a distinctive red hourglass marking on their back – they can be distinguished from their western and northern cousins by the fact that the hourglass shape is ‘complete’. The female has a body of around 1.25cm, while males are a little smaller, at just 0.6cm on average. They also lack the red hourglass marking, although some have a little red spot to make up for it.
Widow spiders are known for their potent venom, and the southern variant is no different. They like to live in wood and rock piles, or empty rodent nests, and usually only bite when their home is accidentally invaded. The reaction varies from person to person but is rarely fatal. You might feel severe pain, swelling, and redness in the local area of the bite, with later symptoms including nausea, abdominal pain, muscle stiffness, and difficulty breathing. Any severe symptoms can be reversed with the use of antivenom.
Closely related to its notorious black-and-red cousin, the brown widow has established a significant population in Hawaii. It has a mottled brown and tan body, with black markings, while females also feature some abdominal stripes. It is mostly found in tropical rainforests and prefers to build its web among woody vegetation.
Again, the brown widow only bites when startled or threatened, and is thought to be significantly less venomous due to its smaller size. Reactions are typically only local and include pain, redness, and swelling.
Hawaiian garden spider
Despite its name, the Hawaiian garden spider is originally from Taiwan but particularly thrived after being imported into the state’s tropical climate. As with many spiders, the females are larger and more colorful than the males, with a bright yellow abdomen and black and orange striped legs. They grow to about 6cm, including the legs, while the brown males average at about 2cm including legs.
This spider is not particularly fussy in its habitat choice so can be found throughout the islands, in the forests, on the coasts, and, as the name suggests, in gardens. While it can bite if threatened, this species is unlikely to cause any more discomfort than a bee sting.
Cane spiders are on the larger side so can look quite frightening to arachnophobes. It has a large brown body and thick hairy legs, tarantula-style, and can grow up to about 12cm including leg span. It can be found on every Hawaiian island, particularly in cane fields, and preys on insects directly rather than spinning webs. This means it is often considered quite useful for pest control, with common prey including cockroaches, silverfish, moths, and even scorpions.
Despite its large size, the cane spider is not considered particularly dangerous. They rarely bite, and even when sufficiently provoked, are unlikely to inject venom. Even so, the bite can be quite painful and may cause a mild headache. Over-the-counter painkillers are usually enough to treat a cane spider bite.
The Hentz Orb Weaver is commonly found throughout the Americas and is usually seen in autumn. It creates large, round, intricate webs which it rarely leaves, used to both hunt prey and for protection from predators. It is also sometimes called the spotted orb weaver due to the underside of the abdomen, which is marked with two white spots.
The rest of the body is varying shades of black and brown and covered in short hairs. It usually likes to construct its web near buildings, up off the ground, and often near outdoor lights. This could be due to the fact that their diet consists mostly of moths and other nocturnal insects which are drawn to bright lights.
Hawaiian happy-face spider
Endemic to the archipelago, the Hawaiian happy-face spider is found in Oahu, Molokai, Maui, and Hawaii. So-called for the patterning on its abdomen, which sometimes emulates a smiley face, this species can be observed in many different color patterns, including yellow, red, and black. This variation in color and markings means the spider is known as a polymorphism – meaning to have many forms. Interestingly, the color of this critter can even change following a meal, morphing as it metabolizes different foods.
It’s a small species, with an average body length of about 5mm. They are generally found in damp environments, often in the rainforest on the underside of large plant leaves. They don’t use webs but do spin silk to capture prey, which mostly includes small flies. Hawaiian happy-face spiders are not poisonous and highly unlikely to bite.
Barn funnel weaver
This is an incredibly common species found worldwide, so much so that it’s often known as, simply, the house spider in Europe. Its body rarely exceeds 1cm in length and is generally brown, beige, orange, and gray in color. It is agile and quick, using its eight sharp eyes and a funnel-shaped web to capture prey. It is often found in and around rural buildings, hence the name!
Although barn funnel spiders very rarely bite humans, scientists think that they do posses the power to cause some pain, along with symptoms including swelling and itching at the site of contact. That said, they are generally thought to be shy and prefer to flea whenever threatened.
Spiny-Backed orb weaver
This unusual looking arachnid has a hard, shell-like abdomen with six prominent spines, and is native to a range of tropical and subtropical regions. It can be white, orange, or yellow, with red markings and short black legs. You’ll usually find it in nature, preferring to reside in forests or plant-filled gardens than in urban spaces and inside the home. It spins round webs between trees to capture its prey, which usually consists of pests such as beetles, moths, mosquitoes, and whiteflies. They rarely venture indoors and pose no risk to humans at all.
Red house spider
The diminutive red house spider is one of the most common arachnids on the islands of Hawaii, and in the whole world. Yep, they are found in almost every continent (bar Antarctica) and are ubiquitous in homes and domestic spaces, where they often colonize parts of the house that have other insect populations that they can feed on.
Just 0.3-0.5cm long, these guys aren’t the easiest to spot. However, when they’re present, they’re often present in big numbers, and are often mistaken for marching red ants. The downside? They might be small but they still possess a type of venom that can cause swelling and pain, however most humans are totally unaffected by the bite.
Kaua’i cave wolf spider
This incredibly rare species is only known to occur in a handful of caves in the Kōloa–Poʻipū region of Kauaʻi. Also known as the blind spider, due to the fact it has no eyes (unlike other wolf spiders which boast razor-sharp vision), the creature is found in a lava flow area with only six known populations. It is reddish-brown in color to blend in with its surroundings and has an average body length of about 2cm.
It preys on the equally rare and endangered Kauaʻi cave amphipod, a blind crustacean that eats decaying plant matter in the same cave system. The spider uses special hairs on its legs to detect the smell of its prey. As well as the fact that you are highly unlikely to run into this subterranean species, it is also completely harmless to people.
Western spotted orbweaver
The last of the strange orbweaver variety of spiders to make this list comes in the form of the Western spotted orbweaver. You’ll be able to identify this due to its white and black interlace pattern, which covers the whole of the back of the thorax and makes the body look like it’s made of marble.
Most specimens of the western spotted orbweaver grow to around 11-18 mm across, although the males tend to be smaller and the largest of the lot aren’t found in Hawaii but in the far-flung Pacific archipelago of the Galapagos Islands, the onetime stomping ground of Charles Darwin, no less.
Western orbweavers can bite humans, but they rarely do. On top of that, they don’t have any notably strong venom, so any bite you do get is unlikely to be dangerous.
Are there dangerous spiders in Hawaii?
There are a couple of dangerous spiders in Hawaii to watch out for, although life-threatening bites are rare. The southern black widow is the island state’s most dangerous spider, followed by the brown widow. Both only bite when threatened, injecting venom that may cause pain, swelling, and redness. Poisoning from bites can usually be treated in local hospitals. Young children, pregnant women, and those with underlying health conditions are thought to experience more adverse effects from a widow bite.
Are there large spiders in Hawaii?
The largest spider in Hawaii is the cane spider, which can grow to be 12cm in length. Also going by many nicknames including the ‘large brown spider,’ and the ‘brown huntsman,’ this species is generally harmless despite its large size. You’ll also find the giant daddy-long-legs spider, which has legs that are approximately 6.5 times the length of its body. It is also harmless to humans. Most of the other species of spiders in Hawaii are relatively small.
Are banana spiders in Hawaii?
Yes, ‘banana spider’ is a common nickname for several different species found in Hawaii. Both the Hawaiian garden spider and the cane spider are often referred to as such. The cane spider is thought to inhabit avocado and banana plantations, as well as the more typical sugar cane fields. Meanwhile, Hawaiian garden spiders are often called banana spiders simply because of their yellow color.
In either case, you are unlikely to find an errant arachnoid in a bunch at the local supermarket. Reports of spiders found in banana shipments in and outside of Hawaii are widely exaggerated.