Ah, New Zealand…This nature lover’s dream comes topped by snow-capped mountains, dashed with rain-plumed coast jungles, carved by fjords, and roaring with white-water rivers. It’s also a haven for native wildlife. And we don’t just mean the charming kea parrots and the iconic kiwi bird, because there are also oodles of spiders in New Zealand to watch out for.
In fact, it’s thought that there are over 2,000 species of these eight-legged creepy crawlies in the home of Milford Sound and Hobbiton. Of those, a whopping 97% are endemic, while there’s a growing cohort of spiders in New Zealand that have been accidentally imported by travelers, cargo ships, and other more modern forms of transport.
This guide will showcase 11 of the most incredible spiders in New Zealand. We’ve whittled down the list of 2k+ to focus on a group of remarkable arachnids that call the land of the kiwis their home. Some might be worth worrying about, others are totally harmless, while some are just downright massive. Keep your eyes peeled for…
Katipo (Latrodectus katipo)
One 50% of all the known dangerous spiders in New Zealand, the Latrodectus katipo is an intriguing customer. They are endemic to the islands, native only to the coastal areas of the South Island and the very southern bottom of North Island. They prefer sandy terrain and often bury themselves in dunes and hills somewhere close to the shoreline – beware that walk to the beach without the flip flops (that’s thongs this far south!).
Only the female of the species is dangerous (at least most of the time, since the men can give bites but rarely do). And it’s only the female of the species that’s really remarkable. They are the ones with the patterned back with the distinctive red-diamond stripe bordered by jet black. It’s a look that really helps them stand out from their natural surroundings, so keep your eyes peeled.
Bites from katipo spiders lead to a similar pain and severity as that of the black widow spider. Patients experience intense pain at the site of contact followed by all manner of extra symptoms, from uncontrollable nausea to high blood pressure and fever. Thankfully, katipo aren’t considered aggressive and prefer to retreat than attack when put under pressure.
Flat huntsman (Delena cancerides)
The huntsman has been the bane of backpackers and travelers to Oz just across the Tasman Sea since that first Qantas flight touched down. The reason? They are famously MASSIVE. Or, we should say, they can grow famously massive. We’re talking leg spans that clock up a whopping 15 centimeters from end to end, and a head-thorax combo that can hit 32mm in all. And we’ve not even mentioned the fangs that protrude out front. Yikes!
There’s good news, though: The huntsman is widely considered to be harmless to humans. Although they are known to be territorial, aggressive, even cannibalistic, and even though they were the inspiration behind the B-rate horror hit Arachnophobia back in 1990, they can’t really cause serious damage and aren’t venomous.
In New Zealand, the huntsman is not a native species but was introduced by travel and trade ties with nearby Australia. Here, they are often known as the Avondale spider since they seem to be extremely common in the Auckland suburb of Avondale, a part-industrial, part-residential corner of the city that pokes out between the sandbanks of Auckland Bay on the side of the Whau River – perhaps they enjoy the weekly farmer’s market?
Black tunnelweb spider (Porrhothele antipodiana)
These intimidating-looking creatures are one of New Zealand’s most common spiders. Often found in the country’s forests or particularly lush gardens, they’re well adapted to life on the green North and South islands.
The black tunnelweb spider is actually a relative of the formidable tarantula. However, they are totally harmless. Yep, despite their rather disconcerting appearance, the fact that tunnelwebs aren’t deadly is probably little consolation for arachnophobes, because they can grow to huge sizes, and weigh a considerable amount to boot!
They usually prey on insects such as beetles, but have also been known to hunt and capture mice. That’s all a testament to their stealth and size and guile. Sometimes, you might occasionally find one of these lurking indoors during the mating season. They particularly like moist environments, though, hence why they are so often found among NZ’s forests and woodland areas.
Slater spider (Dysdera crocata)
Slater spiders are named because their prey of choice is usually the common slater, known elsewhere around the globe as the woodlouse. They are definitely one of New Zealand’s most common spiders, found almost all over the country in pretty much every garden.
These spiders, like the tunnelwebs before them, have a pretty intimidating appearance. We’re talking ochre-tinged legs and a blood-colored head area with large pincers. Don’t let that turn you against them, though. They actually play a key role in the food chain here. If it wasn’t for their abundance, perhaps many gardens and houses in suburban New Zealand will be overrun with woodlice!
Oh, and they do happen to be venomous. While their venom is not thought to be poisonous or all that harmful to humans, you will definitely know if you’ve been bitten or scratched by a slater spider. Most people experience some pain, swelling, redness, or itchiness at the site of contact, but it’s rarely more than just a mild irritant. Nevertheless, these guys are everywhere in New Zealand, so beware.
Jumping spiders (Salticidae)
Unfortunately for arachnophobes going Down Under, jumping spiders are among some of the biggest, most unsettling, and most common species of spiders in New Zealand. Jumping spiders come in many different varieties and sizes. They can range from the pretty small to the formidably large. In fact, there’s an estimated 150 or so different types in NZ alone. Oh yea, as their name would suggest, they are notorious for jumping!
Certain species of jumping spider can leap upwards of half a meter in order to capture their prey. They usually have a combined thorax and upper body that’s known as a cephalothorax, often colored a deep, dark black color. The most identifying feature of all, however, has to be the large protruding duo of eyes that front the beast, always watching, always ready to react.
They do have fangs and do produce venom. The good news is that their venom does not pose a serious threat to humans. That said, even though they won’t seriously harm you or kill you, a bite from one of these creepy crawlies can certainly still be an unpleasant experience, causing itchiness and swelling at the point of contact.
Vagrant spiders (Uliodon)
These arresting arachnids might just be the most commonly found spiders New Zealand has. Endemic to Australia and New Zealand, they are known as vagrant spiders. Go searching and you could probably find them hiding in every garden Down Under. They also love thick forest undergrowth, meaning the untouched and protected woods of South and North islands are just about perfect.
There are a number of different species of vagrant spiders, some a more common sight than others. What’s more, vagrant spiders mostly hunt at night. That means you’ll need to be careful if you feel like taking a moonlit stroll in the forests of Punakiki or around the wooded banks of Lake Wanaka, folks!
They are not particularly harmful, but they can move very quickly and do not like to be disturbed. That means it’s always wise to exercise caution when out and about in the NZ backcountry. Their bites have been known to be incredibly painful, akin to a bee or wasp sting, and there have been reported cases of complications in victims that include severe swelling and joint fatigue.
Black cobweb spider (Steatoda capensis)
The black cobweb is certainly up there with the most creepy-looking spiders in New Zealand. These guys are easily identified by their shiny, round bodies. They can also have a faint red stripe down the thorax, which can often lead to its misidentification as the endangered katipo spider, or the black widow (an arachnid that’s considered highly dangerous!).
To make sure you’re not dealing with anything more serious, keep a look out for the underside of the spider. Black cobweb spiders have white markings on the belly, which the katipo does not. They are also far more common in New Zealand than the katipo spider – thankfully, since the latter is much more venomous!
Black cobweb spiders are actually native to South Africa. However, they’ve gained a strong foothold in the home of the kiwi, where they love to live in sandy dune habitats close to the coast. They’re also a commonly encountered house spider, particularly in shoreline cities like Christchurch, Auckland, Napier, and Wellington. Be warned: These guys do bite. It’s not deadly, but it’s not nice by any stretch!
Garden wolf spider (Anoteropsis hilaris)
Almost anywhere where’s there’s some grassland scrub or non-alpine tussock in New Zealand (AKA, a lot of places!), there’s a chance that it’s a habitat for the garden wolf spider. Yep, these guys are one of the most common spiders in New Zealand, found residing all across North Island and South Island, along with outlying islands in Auckland Bay, on Three Kings Islands, and even remote Stewart Island.
You’ll notice them for that greenish-brown mix of camo on the back, topped by a long, dark dash and one whitish line right down the middle of the thorax. It’s a look that helps to keep them well hidden in lush spaces, not to mention secretly tucked away in urban gardens from Christchurch to Wellington!
All wolf spiders are thought to be venomous in some shape or form. More research is needed into how severe their bites can be. Some reports indicate that wolf spiders can cause seriously painful necrotic wounds that might require hospitalization. However, most evidence indicates that bites are usually more in line with a bee sting, causing local inflammation and redness.
White-tailed spider (Lampona cylindrata and L. murina)
There are two species of white-tailed spiders in New Zealand, and both of them are among the most commonly spotted spider in the country. They’re also both originally from Australia, but are now commonplace spiders in North Island and South Island after having been imported on ships and planes (probably in some unsuspecting traveler’s bag – eek!).
Much like the slater spider, the white-tailed spider does not spin a web to catch its prey. Instead, it ventures into other spider’s webs in order to hunt. In addition, the white-tailed spider is particularly robust and strong, because they most frequently prey on other spiders.
While the white-tails are known to bite, their venom is not considered poisonous to humans. That is not to say that they are harmless. If you do get bitten by a white-tailed spider in New Zealand, you will almost certainly know about it. Incidents are known to be painful and can lead to soreness, redness, and even infection.
Sheetweb spiders (Cambridgea spp)
Sheetweb spiders get their name from the huge, sheet-like webs they spin. What’s interesting is that the size of their webs are actually directly proportionate to the size of the spider itself. So, when you’re exploring the lush and green New Zealand forests and you come across flat webs as large as a meter across, you can be sure that a beefy arachnid is probably not too far away.
Luckily for globetrotting arachnophobes in New Zealand, spotting a web is far more likely than spotting the spider itself. In fact, if you limit your rural exploring to the daylight hours, you’re unlikely to spot even a single sheetweb. They normally only come out at night, choosing to retreat into the shadowy darkness of the forest’s hidden corners when the sun is up.
While they are most common in wooded areas and parts of the New Zealand bush, they have been found inside homes. Just keep your eyes peeled for any strange new silken building project that might be going on!
Fishing spider (Dolomedes aquaticus)
There are now thought to be as many as four different species of so-called fishing spiders in New Zealand. These are arachnids that have evolved to hunt on open water. The most common of them is the Dolomedes aquaticus. It’s now abundant all over the wild lands of South Island, and in the southern portion of North Island, where it lives mainly on the rocky banks of braided rivers or on sandspits in the middle of roaring waterways.
These sorts of fishing spider are capable of striking fear into the hearts of any arachnophobe who passes their way. Why? They don’t look too different to the uber-infamous tarantula, what with hair-sprouting limbs that can grow up to 3.5cm from end to end, and a brownish-grey thorax that’s covered in tufts of wiry fur.
The good news is that they aren’t really dangerous to humans, though not much is known about the potency of their bites. All fishing spiders will spend most of their lives within easy reach of the water. There, they hunt for small insects, using special adaptations to pluck them from the surface of the H2O without falling in. The only time a fishing spider will leave its aquatic feeding ground is when the female is pregnant.
Are there dangerous spiders in New Zealand?
There are only two species of spider in New Zealand that are thought to be seriously dangerous to humans: The katipo spider and the redback spider. While their bites are poisonous, there is effective anti-venom available to treat them. White-tailed spiders should also be avoided because of their bite, but will almost certainly not prove fatal to humans.
What is the largest spider in New Zealand?
The largest spider you can find in New Zealand is the Nelson cave spider. These spiders can grow to have a leg span of over five inches, and a body of over three inches! The Nelson cave spider may be large, but it is not poisonous and rarely bites.
Can you own tarantulas in New Zealand?
There are fairly strict laws about keeping exotic pets here, meaning you cannot own tarantulas in New Zealand. In fact, there are no tarantulas native to the country at all. The only way you will encounter a tarantula in New Zealand is in a zoo or conservation park, mainly because of the special requirements needed to import and house such creatures.