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Most Common Arachnids in South Africa Part 2

In our last blog, we looked at some of the most common arachnids you’ll find in South Africa like the intimidating Rain Spider, the Banded-legged Golden Orb Spider, the Bark Spider, the Pantropical Jumping Spider, the Southern Baboon Spider and the most common of them all, the Daddy Long Legs. Today, with over 3 000 species of arachnids within South Africa, we will continue with that list as we look at the most common of them.

Banded Garden Spider
Photo By Spider ID

Banded Garden Spider - Argiope trifasciata (Not Dangerous)

Also known as the Banded Orb Weaving Spider. This species has an oval abdomen and bright body markings. The back of the abdomen is pale yellow with silvery hairs and lateral bands of black stripes. Males are usually paler, sometimes even white. Adult females are around 13 to 14.5 mm long and males reaching only ⅓ of the females’ length.

The Banded Garden Spider builds an enormous web, typically around 60 cm in diameter. The web itself is sticky and strong, able to hold very large insects like wasps and grasshoppers. One interesting feature of their webs is the so-called “stabilimentum,” a vertical zigzag pattern made from dense silk. Researchers think this feature is a way to attract its prey.

The female can usually be found resting at the centre of the web, facing downwards. They face their webs east-to-west to take advantage of the rising and setting sun and hang in the centre with their dark underside facing south. All this allows them to gain as much warmth as possible, enabling them to stay active later in the year.

These spiders rarely bite humans and are not aggressive. If disturbed, they may drop from the centre of their web. They may bite in defense if handled and bothered, but it’s unlikely that the bite would cause more discomfort than a bee sting.

Common Garden Orb Web Spider
Photo By African Snakebite Institute

Common Garden Orb Web Spider - Argiope australis (Not Dangerous)

Also called Black and Yellow Garden Spider or Garden Orb Spider. The abdomen is bright yellow and black with knobby outlines, and the legs have bands of dark and light colouring. Females are around 25 mm, and males are around 5 mm.

The Common Garden Orb Web Spider is prevalent across sub-Saharan South Africa. It creates massive webs resembling wheels, which they use for several days before moving and creating a new one. The webs are typically constructed one meter off the ground and spread across plants. They have an efficient yet gross way of consuming their prey. To overpower large prey, like grasshoppers, bees, flies, butterflies, and dragonflies, they wrap their victim in silk to incapacitate it. Then, they paralyze their victims by injecting them with poison. Before eating, the spider injects enzymes that liquefy the prey’s insides. The spider then consumes the liquid left over sort of like a smoothie.

Brown Widow
Photo By Center of Invasive Species Research

Brown Widow - Latrodectus geometricus (Semi - Dangerous)

The colouring is mottled tan and brown with black accent markings. On the sides of the abdomen, there are three diagonal stripes. This species has an hourglass like the black widow, but it’s often orange or yellow. The striped legs are usually dark brown or black with light yellow bands.

The Brown Widow employs a neurotoxic venom, causing pain, muscle rigidity, vomiting, and sweating. However, while deadly to their prey, the bites of the Brown Widow are often much less harmful to humans than the infamous Black Widow.

Females create webs in isolated, safe locations near houses and branch-heavy woods. Brown Widows frequently choose empty containers like buckets, planters, mailboxes, and entryway corners. So be sure to check these places.

One of the easiest ways to identify these spiders in South Africa is to look for their egg sacs. They have pointy protrusions and are frequently referred to as “fluffy” or “spiky” in appearance.

African Hermit Spider
Photo By iNaturalist

African Hermit Spider - Nephilingis cruentata (Not Dangerous)

Females grow up to 25 mm. Their bodies are elongated and pointed, bright yellow near the head and dark brown near the back. Males grow only up to 4 mm with the legs of both sexes being a combination of brown, red, and black.

African Hermit Spiders get their common name from building funnel-shaped retreats on the side of their webs. They hide out in the funnels during the daytime, emerging at night to hunt. Their asymmetrical webs are usually found on trees and bushes in tropical and subtropical climates. African Hermit Spiders live close to people and can be spotted in manufactured structures on walls and roofs.

If you find an African Hermit Spider in South Africa, it’s most likely a female. That’s because the males are so small, they’re hardly ever spotted. In fact, they have the greatest sexual dimorphism of any spider in South Africa. Females are up to 14 times bigger than males and up to 70 times heavier.

Masked Vlei Spider
Photo By Steenbok Nature Reserve

Masked Vlei Spider - Leucauge festiva (Not Dangerous)

The body and limbs are elongated, with colourful markings. Their abdomen has brownish side-lines, with one vertical black and one yellow line on each side. The middle part of the abdomen is green with the average size being 8-9 mm.

Masked Vlei Spiders create orb webs in low vegetation, around 3-4 cm above the ground. This puts them in the perfect position to capture grasshoppers, their preferred prey.

Unlike most spiders in South Africa, the Masked Vlei Spider has some communal tendencies meaning, up to three spiders can share a web and don’t appear to compete with one another for space. Look for their sloping webs, which they maintain for up to a week before building a new one.

Shorthorn Kite Spider
Photo By Kloof Conservancy BioGuide

Shorthorn Kite Spider - Gasteracantha sanguinolenta (Not Dangerous)

Also known as the Thorn spider, the Jewel spider, the Star spider, or the Kite spider.

Females are 8-10 mm long. They’re bright cream, white or yellow, red, and black. Their abdomen is usually black at the sides and white at the centre, with red spots wile males are several times smaller and lack bright colouring. Their abdomen is sclerotized (hardened) with four sides and two back spines.

Unlike other spiders in South Africa, this species is most seen during winter. They reproduce in the spring, and the females die after producing the egg sac, leaving the young to grow and disperse on their own. The Shorthorn Kitespider is mostly found in evergreen forests, woodlands, or shrubby gardens. They use trees to build their webs at least one meter above the ground.

Lobed Argiope
Photo By iNaturalist

Lobed Argiope - Argiope lobata (Not Dangerous)

The female’s abdomen has black and white stripes and appears jagged or, as many say, “lobed” while males have the same coloration but don’t have the lobes on the abdomen. Females are large and grow up to 25 mm long. Males are much smaller and only measure around 6 mm.

It’s hard to miss a female Lobed Argiope if you come across one. In addition to being incredibly large, they have a unique body shape and coloration that makes them stand out. They’re most seen in bushes in warm rocky areas that are dry and sunny.

Make sure to look at the centre of their web, as you should see a zigzag stabilimenta, which is a silk-shaped web decoration. Scientists believe it helps attract insects to the web by reflecting UV light. it is said that after E.B. White observed a stabilimenta in a spider’s web, he was inspired by the idea of a writing spider for his book Charlotte’s Web. Despite its intense appearance, the venom from a Lobed Argiope bite is not dangerous to humans.

Spiders are incredibly adaptable creatures that have managed to thrive in various environments around the world. Whether it's a tiny corner of your ceiling or a vast expanse of untouched wilderness, spiders play an important role in maintaining the balance of ecosystems and controlling insect populations.


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