There is something about spiders that makes people’s skin crawl; maybe it has to do with all those hairy legs? To get in the spirit of spooky Halloween, we are diving into the world of the top ten scariest spiders. After looking at this top ten list you may think that all spiders are scary but remember they rarely bite and very few are dangerous. Spiders are also really important to the environment because most eat other insects, which help control pest populations. If you do see venomous spiders, like the ones in this list, remember to stay away! Although they rarely bite it’s much safer to not test their mood.
Spider Family: New World Tarantula (Theraphosidae)
These spiders are known for being really big and really hairy. Some are excellent climbers and live in trees, while others are found primarily on the ground. Estimated number of species: 939
Scariest Spider in this Family: Goliath Birdeater Tarantula (Theraphosa blondi)
Size: Leg span of 30cm.
Location: Northern Amazon rainforests of South America
Scary details: This is the world’s biggest tarantula and the heaviest spider, weighing in at about 170g. They have really big fangs and barbed hairs or bristles that they can flick at predators. However, they aren’t much danger to humans. When they are feeling threatened, they will send out a warning noise by rubbing the bristles on their legs. If you miss the warning and do end up getting bitten, the Goliath Birdeater Tarantula’s venom isn’t very toxic to humans.
Sources: P.D. Hillyard. The Private Life of Spiders. London: New Holland Publishers, 2007: page 69
Spider Family: Jumping spiders (Salticidae)
These spiders, found all over the world, are known for their wicked jumping skills and their remarkable eyesight. These survival traits are so amazing that jumping spiders are considered one of the most evolved families of spiders. Estimated number of species: 5468
Scariest Spider in this Family: Zebra spider (Salticus scenicus)
Size: Has a body length of 5-7mm
Location: These spiders are found in Europe, northern Asia and North America
Scary details: The idea of a spider jumping at you is pretty scary. Zebra spiders can jump about 20x their own length which sounds terrifying, but being just 7mm, that means they can only jump about 14cm. After putting that into perspective, these guys don’t seem so scary after all. Besides, how can someone be scared of a face like that?
P.D. Hillyard. The Private Life of Spiders: page 34-35
Spider Family: Huntsman spiders (Sparassidae)
These spiders get their name from their speed and hunting skills. They tend to live in warm temperate regions. They do not build webs, but forage for food instead. Estimated number of species: 1123
Scariest Spider in this Family: Giant Huntsman Spider (Heteropoda maxima)
Size: Over 4.6cm in body length and has a 25-30cm leg span
Scary Details: This spider has the widest leg span in the world which is enough to give anyone the creeps. While human encounters do occur, these spiders aren’t necessarily aggressive unless you disturb their nest or are considered a threat. They also give you a warning before biting.
Sources: Peter Jaeger. A new species of Heteropoda (Araneae, Sparassidae, Heteropodinae) from Laos, the largest huntsman spider? Zoosystema 23.3 (2001): pages 461-465.
Spider Family: Wolf spiders (Lycosidae)
These spiders are amazing hunters and have really good eyesight. They rely on camouflage for protection and many live and hunt on the ground. Estimated number of species: 2388
Scariest Spider in this Family: Tarantula wolf spider (Lycosa tarantula)
Size: Can grow to 3cm in body length
Location: southern Europe, especially around Italy
Scary details: During the 17th century, a bite from this spider was believed to cause “Tarantism,” a potentially fatal disorder that caused restlessness and excitability. However, now it is widely believed that tarantism was due to a relative of the black widow. The tarantula wolf spider rarely attacks humans and their bite is no more painful than a bee sting.
MobileReference. First Aid Guide and Home Doctor for Smartphones and Mobile Devices. Mobi Health Series (2007): “Lycosa tarantula”
Spider Family: Wandering spiders (Ctenidae)
These spiders don’t catch prey in webs, rather they ambush prey on the ground. Estimated number of species: 468
Scariest Spider in this Family: Brazilian wandering spider (Phoneutria nigriventer)
Size: Body length is about 3-5cm with a leg span of 12-15cm.
Location: Southern South America
Scary details: These spiders are fast, highly venomous and aggressive. Unlike most other spiders, they won’t run when threatened. In fact, 60% of all spider bites in parts of Brazil are caused by this P. nigriventer. Venom from this spider is lethal so steer clear of this species.
Dr. Robert S. Anderson, et al. Insects and Spiders of the World: Volume 10. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2003: pages 580-582
P.D. Hillyard. The Private Life of Spiders: pages 117-119
Spider Family: Actinopodidae
These spiders are found in South America and Australia. Estimated number of species: 40
Scariest Spider in this Family: Mouse Spiders (Missulena)
Size: 10mm-35mm in body length
Location: Mainland Australia
Scary Details: These spiders look like the Sydney Funnel-web spider and can be just as toxic. However, they are not aggressive. Although they are often seen around mainland Australia, bites are rare. If bites do happen, funnel-web spider anti-venom has been proven as an effective cure.
Spider Family: Recluse spiders (Sicariidae)
This family is known for being venomous. They are found around the world in warm climates. Estimated number of species: 125
Scariest Spider in this Family: Six-eyed sand spider (Sicarius hahni)
Size: Body length of 9-19mm and a 50mm leg span
Location: Western half of southern Africa
Scary Details: This spider is a cousin of the brown recluse spider and can be just as toxic. It hides under the sand and waits for its prey to come too close. Currently there isn’t an anti-venom for the six-eyed sand spider, but there are very few recorded bites and they seem highly unlikely to bite humans. These spiders are very shy and timid. Rather than attack, it will run away and hide under the sand if it is disturbed.
P.D. Hillyard. The Private Life of Spiders: pages 116-117
Spider Family: Funnel spiders (Hexathelidae)
Some species belonging to the Hexathelidae family are found in South America, Africa, but most live around Asia Pacific. Their name comes from the shape of their web. Estimated number of species: 105
Scariest Spider in this Family: Sydney funnel-web spider (Atrax robustus)
Size: Can have a 35mm body length
Location: Within a 160km around Sydney, Australia
Scary Details: The Sydney funnel-web spider is aggressive and venomous. Males have really strong fangs and are more likely to bite (which is uncommon among spiders). Juvenile and female spiders, on the other hand, are far less toxic than males. Like the Brazilian Wandering Spider, a bite from this spider can be lethal.
P.D. Hillyard. The Private Life of Spiders: pages 117-119
Spider Family: Nephilidae
They are known for their amazing, not to mention massive, webs that sometime span several feet in width. Estimated number of species: 61
Scariest Spider in this Family: Golden Silk Orb-weaver (Nephila clavipes)
Size: Usually grow to be 7.5cm in body length
Location: Around the southern United States, Argentina and Peru. This is the only member of this family found in the Western Hemisphere, the rest live in the South Pacific.
Scary details: These spiders build their webs with strong silk and are often found from 2 to 8 feet above the ground, so be careful when walking in Golden Silk Orb-weaver territory or you might stumble into one. Thankfully, while this spider is venomous, it is not lethal to humans. Like the tarantula wolf spider, their bite is comparable to a bee sting!
Spider Family: Cobweb spiders (Theridiidae)
While many spider webs are beautifully designed and patterned, the cobweb spider is an exception to the rule. Their webs are known for looking tangled and unorganized. Estimated number of species: 2350
Scariest Spider in this Family: Black widow spider (Latrodectus mactans)
Size: Body length is about 9mm, with a 25-35mm leg span
Location: Mostly around the United States, but some are found in southern Canada, Mexico and South America
Scary details: This spider might be small, but it packs a powerful bite. Its venom is believed to be 15x more toxic than a rattlesnake’s. Thankfully, Black widows are timid and not aggressive. Its first defence method is to drop out of its web and pretend to be dead.
To learn more about the number of spider species that make up each family, click here: The World Spider Catalog