Various types of spiders live in different environments, from forests to deserts; each has unique characteristics that define their behavior and diet. And if you have arachnophobia, this article is for you. Even if almost all spiders contain venom, did you know only a few species threaten humans with painful or lethal bites?
Let’s face our fears and deepen our appreciation for these vital animals.
Related Read: Spider Facts.
Spiders, scientifically classified as Araneae, fall under the class Arachnida and encompass more than 48,000 species worldwide.
Spiders have eight legs and are broadly organized into around 120 families, each with its unique characteristics and behaviors. In the United States, there are about 78 known families of spiders out of the approximate 120.
For instance, the Salticidae family comprises the lively jumping spiders, revered for their unparalleled vision and captivating courtship rituals.
The Araneidae family, or orb-web spiders, leaves observers in awe with their large, intricate webs. Then there's Theraphosidae, the family of famed, often feared, tarantulas recognized for their sheer size and hair-covered bodies. Similarly, the Latrodectus, or widow spiders of the Theridiidae family, carry a reputation for their venom's potency.
Fun Fact: Some orb-weaver spiders can spin intricately beautiful wheel-shaped webs, which they use to capture prey and communicate with other spiders.
Orb-weaver spiders modify the patterns and designs of their webs, attracting potential mates or deterring predators. Essentially, their webs are artistic creations and personal advertisements.
Moreover, there are over 3,000 species of orb-weaver spiders worldwide. They are widely dispersed across North America. They are tiny arachnids measuring 2mm to 30mm; females are larger than males.
Besides web patterns, these spiders also escape predators by playing dead or shaking their webs fiercely. They are non-threatening to humans.
Fun Fact: Tarantulas can regenerate lost body parts. For example, if a tarantula loses a leg due to an accident or a tussle with another animal, it can grow a new one on its next molt.
There are over 900 species of tarantula in the world, spread across the rainforests of South America, African savannahs, and the Australian outback.
Moreover, they are among the world’s largest spiders; some species can grow up to 10 cm long, with legs measuring 28 cm long.
These nocturnal hunters do not weave webs but use stealth tactics and venom to catch prey like small invertebrates. However, they hunt birds or lizards occasionally.
While a spider bite from a tarantula can be painful, their venom is harmless to humans. Their low metabolic rate also allows them to survive up to two years without food.
Read more: Tarantula Facts.
Fun Fact: Female wolf spiders carry their eggs wherever they go. They have a silk sac attached to their abdomen, which works like a portable nursery for their spiderlings, where they stay until they can explore their habitat independently.
There are over 2,300 species of wolf spiders in the world. Unlike typical spiders, the Wolf Spider is a solitary hunter who ambushes unsuspecting insects under darkness.
Moreover, people often mistake grass spiders for wolf spiders, though they are yellow, cream, or brown in color. They also have two dark brown bands across their bodies.
The Wolf Spider has brown or gray coloring and subtle patterns or stripes that provide excellent camouflage. Their eight eyes also give them exceptional night vision.
Wolf Spiders live in grasslands, forests, gardens, and mountains. They eat small insects and spiders but may also hunt tiny frogs and lizards.
Fun Fact: Jumping spiders have excellent vision due to their four pairs of eyes. Two pairs are at the front of their body, which helps them to judge distances. Moreover, their vision allows them to make accurate jumps like acrobats.
Despite their small size, over 5,000 species of this type of spider live in mountains, deserts, and jungles.
Their unique name describes their remarkable ability to jump 50 times their body length, higher than any other spider species. Moreover, they use this ability to hunt, swooping down on their prey. As such, they do not spin webs.
Read more: Flying Spiders - Can Spiders Fly?
Fun Fact: The Huntsman Spider can run up to 1.5 feet per second. They quickly scurry away when encountered, aided by their long legs.
Huntsman spiders predominantly live in tropical climates across Asia, Africa, parts of the Americas, and the Mediterranean. They prefer warm environments and make their home between wooden logs, beneath loose bark, or rocks in rocky landscapes.
Moreover, these habitats give them easy access to their prey: insects, small invertebrates, lizards, and frogs. They hunt at night and also don’t use webs.
Some larger Huntsman species can reach up to 12 inches (30 centimeters), making them the largest spiders by leg span.
Fun Fact: The Crab Spider is an ambush predator and master of disguise. Unlike most spiders that use webs, Crab Spiders change their color to blend with the flowers or plants.
Unsurprisingly, the crab spider got its name because they look like a crab. For instance, their legs resemble crab pincers, which they use to catch prey. More than 2,100 known species live in various locations, sizes, and colors.
Unlike most types of spiders, they remain motionless and camouflaged among flowers to ambush their next meal. Their camouflage easily deceives butterflies, flies, and spiders. Certain species even replicate a flower’s scent, a potent trap for unsuspecting pollinators.
Fun Fact: Female Black Widow spiders often devour the male after mating, gaining valuable nutrients to help them produce numerous healthy offspring.
Moreover, the female Black Widow is larger than the male, with a shiny black exterior. Their signature physical trait is the red hourglass pattern on their abdomens, indicating danger.
The Black Widow lives in forests, deserts, and urban areas. For example, they can make homes in suburban backyards.
While hunting, the Black Widow remains in its web until prey comes along. Once prey gets caught on the web, the spider strikes quickly, injecting venom that immobilizes the target. Regarded as one of the most dangerous spiders, their venom could cause severe pain in humans.
The Brown Recluse Spider is often mistaken for a common house spider. One notable feature is a violin-shaped mark located on its dorsal side. This mark has earned it the nickname 'fiddleback' spider.
People often mistake cellar spiders for brown recluses; the former has much longer and thinner legs. This type of spider prefers to hide in warm, dark corners where they can stay undisturbed. They sleep during the day and emerge at night.
While hunting, Brown Recluse Spiders immobilize their prey with potent venom. They only bite humans when they feel threatened.
Fortunately, not all bites cause serious injury. However, like the bites of hobo spiders, their venom contains a rare enzyme capable of inducing necrosis or cell death1. Contrary to popular belief, the hobo spider is not aggressive and tends to flee when it encounters humans.
The Garden Spider belongs to the orb-weaver family, originating in North and Central America. It has distinctive black and yellow or orange markings on its body.
One interesting aspect of this species is the size difference between males and females. Mature females can grow up to 28mm long, while males typically only grow to 9mm.
Garden Spiders weave webs with a zigzagging silk pattern at the center, known as a stabilimentum. This feature is a signature of this spider, which waits for prey to fall into their traps.
Moreover, like house spiders, Garden Spiders pose no threat to humans. Their bite is relatively harmless and only causes minor itching.
Fun Fact: The Golden Silk Orb-weaver Spider weaves a powerful golden web whose color results from how light interacts with its silk fibers.
The Golden Silk Orb-weaver’s web has a similar strength to Kevlar, the material used in bulletproof vests (see more examples of biomimicry). As a result, silk has attracted the interest of scientists and artists, who are curious about its potential applications.
Moreover, the larger size of females allows them to spin webs stretching over six feet. They typically live in open areas and catch flying insects, birds, and bats.
Additionally, Golden Silk Orb-weaver venom is only effective on their prey.
Before moving on to other spider types, here’s a bonus arachnid: Ground spiders! These nocturnal spiders are often found in leaf litter, under rocks, and in decomposing wood. They use silk to make shelters and to wrap egg sacs.
Fun Fact: Unlike most spiders, Funnel-Web Spiders can swim, trapping air bubbles around their bodies for oxygen and surviving several hours underwater.
These are nocturnal spiders found in New South Wales, Australia. They create funnel-shaped webs that use a tripwire-style design to detect prey. Though highly venomous, the Funnel-Web Spider doesn’t harm humans intentionally, reserving its venom for self-defense.
However, this toxin can be dangerous to children; male spiders are more venomous than females. Still, their venom has medical applications, particularly research to develop treatments for heart attack patients.
Fun Fact: The Brazilian Wandering Spider's scientific name, Phoneutria, is Greek for "murderess."
Known for its strong neurotoxic venom, the Brazilian Wandering Spider maintains a fearsome reputation. These creatures are active nocturnal hunters that traverse the forest floor rather than spinning webs.
Though these spiders are considered highly venomous, human encounters are relatively infrequent. Interestingly, these spiders often indulge in 'dry biting' - delivering a bite without the venom as a means of defense.
Fun Fact: Trapdoor spiders construct burrows with a hinged door made of silk and soil, which helps them ambush unsuspecting prey.
The Trapdoor Spider lays silk "tripwires" around their burrow’s entrance that vibrate at the slightest disturbance, alerting the spider to approaching prey. Then, it captures the intruder and disappears into the burrow.
Some trapdoor spiders can create multiple entrances and even build fake doors to confuse predators. Over 120 varieties of this type of spider are named after their unique hunting technique. Moreover, these spiders may not get noticed. They blend in with their surroundings with soil, vegetation, and silk, providing the ultimate camouflage.
Fun Fact: Like its avian namesake, the Peacock Spider performs a mesmerizing courtship dance to find a mate2. It raises its colorful abdomen, with colorful patterns resembling a peacock’s tail. However, this dance has life-and-death stakes. If the male wins the female’s approval, he gets to mate with her. On the other hand, if he fails, the female eats him.
The Peacock Spider, an eye-catching species found primarily in Australia, is renowned for its vibrant colors and distinctive patterns, reminiscent of a peacock's plumage. Usually measuring only 4 to 5 millimeters in length, they are small yet striking with their iridescent abdominal flaps.
Female Redback Spiders often eat the male after mating. This behavior, known as sexual cannibalism, is rare in the animal kingdom but is quite pronounced among Redback Spiders.
The Redback Spider has a black body and a prominent red stripe. However, one must tread carefully around females since their bites can be harmful. On the other hand, the spider bites of males are relatively harmless.
Moreover, these spiders eat insects, reptiles, and other spiders. These spiders build webs close to the ground to trap prey and immobilize them with a venomous bite, wrapping them in spider silk for feeding.
Fun Fact: Yellow sac spiders can walk on water, gliding across the surface of ponds and streams. It uses the tiny hairs on its legs to trap air bubbles, creating a makeshift flotation device.
During the day, these spiders hide in their webs, often concealed beneath leaves, within folded leaves, and crevices of structures. Their sac-like dwellings give them their name and protect them from potential threats.
Fun Fact: The Goliath Birdeater spider is the world's largest spider by mass, known to weigh as much as 6 ounces.
Feasting primarily on insects and other spiders, the Goliath Birdeater has been known to eat birds - hence its name. Contrary to its terrifying size and name, this spider is not deadly to humans.
While its venom, if injected, can cause pain, muscle cramps, and even a mild fever, fatalities from a bite are exceptionally rare. Instead, their primary defense against threats is releasing an irritant substance from their abdomen. However, it may bite when threatened as a form of defense.
There are over 50,000 known species of spiders in the world.
All spiders, being arachnids, have eight legs. It means they are not insects that have six legs.
Spiders typically have eight eyes, but this can vary among different species.
While all spiders, except for two small groups, have poison glands, most are not harmful to humans or other mammals. Only a tiny percentage have venom that can cause serious effects.
According to the Guinness World Records, the most venomous spider is the Sydney. Funnel-web spider.
The biggest spider in the world by leg span is the Giant Huntsman Spider, while the Goliath Birdeater is the heaviest.
Vetter, R. S., & Barger, D. K. (2002). An infestation of 2,055 brown recluse spiders (Araneae: Sicariidae) and no envenomations in a Kansas home: implications for bite diagnoses in nonendemic areas. Journal of medical entomology, 39(6), 948-951.
Girard, M. B., Kasumovic, M. M., & Elias, D. O. (2011). Multi-modal courtship in the peacock spider, Maratus volans (O.P.-Cambridge, 1874). PloS one, 6(9), e25390.