South Africa is home to over 3,000 known species of spiders (see reference 5). Though feared and maligned by many, spiders are beneficial animals and play an invaluable role in controlling pests. Spiders are an integral part of natural ecosystems, but many locations in and around the home make ideal habitats. Many species can often be found indoors. Of all the spiders commonly found in South Africa, only a few are harmful to humans.
Huntsman Spiders (Sparassidae family)
Huntsman spiders are some of the largest spiders in South Africa and mature adults can reach lengths up to 4 inches. Huntsman spiders are sometimes called rain spiders because of their tendency to seek shelter in human structures right before a rainstorm. Through formidable in size, huntsman spiders are harmless to humans. These nomadic, nocturnal spiders do not spin webs. Huntsman spiders are also found around human homes feeding on insects attracted to porch lights.
Jumping Spiders (Salticidae familly)
Jumping spiders are commonly found in homes throughout South Africa. The Salticidae family is one the largest, most diverse groups of spiders on the planet and there are 46 genera in South Africa alone. Jumping spiders are often called Charlies, Herbies or Salties and many people find the inquisitive nature of these spiders entertaining. Their scientific name comes from the Latin word "salto," which means to dance with gestures. Males display a dramatic courtship dance when attempting to garner the attention of females. Jumping spiders are the acrobats of the spider world, and through jumping spiders do not spin webs, they use silk as a safety cord as they leap into the air from trees in order to catch flying insects. Jumping spiders are a diverse group of spiders and many species thrive in human environments where they prey on common household insects.
Widow Spiders (Theridiidae family)
Widow spiders are known as button spiders in South Africa though both names refer to the highly venomous spiders of the genus Latrodectus. There are six species of black widow or button spiders in South Africa and they are they all pose a serious health risk. Their appearance is highly variable, ranging from black with distinct red markings on the abdomen to brown with only a slightly darker stripe across their rear. All widow spiders are small. Females are much larger than males and have fat abdomens and small thin legs. Females construct irregular cone-shaped webs in dark corner of secure structures and wait for wandering males to find them and mate. Often, females will kill the male after mating, hence the name widow spiders. Widow spider bites are extremely painful and require immediate medical treatment.
Baboon Spiders (Theraphosidae family)
Baboon spiders are large, hairy spiders found throughout South Africa. They are commonly mistaken for a tarantula but they belong to their own group of spiders and have several characteristics that set them apart from other spiders. Baboon spiders get their name from the black pads on their feet that resemble those of their mammalian namesake. Though large, baboon spiders are not especially dangerous to humans, but they can inflict a painful bite when provoked. However, baboon spiders will give you plenty of warning before striking. These spiders are infamous for their defensive display in which they raise their front four limbs high off the ground and demonstrate the threat of their long, black fangs.