What kinds of spiders can you find in Malawi?
Many people are terrified of spiders and find them extremely creepy. This is unfortunate because not only are most spiders completely harmless, they benefit our environment by controlling the insect population. In fact, without spiders, our food supply would be in serious jeopardy.
Before we begin, I want you to know that the list below is just a fraction of the spiders in Malawi. Because of the sheer number of these arachnids, it would be impossible to cover them all. For example, some estimates claim over 50,000 kinds of spiders on the planet (and the list is still growing)!
In today’s article, I did my best to develop a list of spiders you’re most likely to see.
Here are the 17 common SPIDERS that live in Malawi!
#1. Hairy Golden Orb-weaving Spider
- Trichonephila fenestrata
Also known as the Tufted Golden Orb-weaving spider.
- Their coloring is predominantly yellow with black patterns.
- The legs are dark brown or black with hairy middle parts (brushes).
- Females are 20-40 mm (0.8-1.5 in). Males are 5-6 mm (0.19-0.23 in).
Look for this spider in Malawi in wooded areas where they can make their web and catch prey easily.
Hairy Golden Orb-weaving Spiders makes elaborate flat webs of concentric circles and spokes from the center. Their webs can reach up to 1 meter (3 feet) in diameter. The silk has a yellowish color, which serves two functions: in the sun, bees are attracted to the color, and in the shade, it blends in with the surrounding vegetation.
Male Hairy Golden Orb-weaving Spiders have an unusual tactic to survive mating, which is typically dangerous for spiders. During mating, the male sacrifices one of its front legs as a snack for the female. This behavior increases the chances of successful mating while decreasing the chances of the male being eaten by the female. And you think dating is hard for humans!
#2. Common Garden Orb Web Spider
- Argiope australis
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 coloring.
- Females are around 25 mm (0.9 in), and males are around 5 mm (0.2 in).
The Common Garden Orb Web Spider is prevalent across sub-Saharan Malawi.
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.
Common Garden Orb Web Spiders have an efficient (but sort of gross) way of eating their meals. 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 bug smoothie!
#3. Brown Widow
- Latrodectus geometricus
Also known as the brown widow, brown button spider, grey widow, brown, black widow, home button spider, or geometric button spider.
- The coloring 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 similar to 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, checking these places thoroughly before disturbing them is a good idea!
One of the easiest ways to identify these spiders in Malawi is to look for their egg sacs. They have pointy protrusions and are frequently referred to as “fluffy” or “spiky” in appearance.
#4. Banded-legged Golden Orb-web Spider
- Trichonephila senegalensis
Also called the Giant Wood Spider or Banana Spider.
- The spider’s name refers to its joints’ characteristic golden yellow color.
- Females are bright yellow with a dark pattern in the middle and reach 30 to 40 mm (1.1-1.5 in).
- Males have the same color pattern but are usually paler and ten times smaller than females.
The Banded-legged Golden Orb-web Spider is usually found in Malawi in warm, humid gardens, open forests, grasslands, and savannas.
These spiders weave beautiful, sturdy, golden-colored webs. They can regulate the amount of pigment and stickiness in their webs to adapt to their environment. Interestingly, the females keep food supplies on their webs. Up to 15 insects are carefully arranged and wrapped in silk to prevent deterioration of the prey.
Male Banded-legged Golden Orb-web Spiders often linger near the edge of the female’s web. When he is ready to mate, he will tap on the edge of the web to ensure that the female is in a good mood and bring her food as courtship. Then, while the female is eating, he will approach quietly, inject his semen into her abdomen and flee as soon as possible to avoid being eaten.
#5. African Hermit Spider
- Nephilingis cruentata
- Females grow up to 25 mm (1 in). Their bodies are elongated and pointed, bright yellow near the head and dark brown near the back.
- Males grow only up to 4 mm (0.15 in).
- The legs of both sexes are 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. But don’t worry, this fearsome-looking spider isn’t dangerous to humans!
If you find an African Hermit Spider in Malawi, 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 Malawi. Females are up to 14 times bigger than males and up to 70 times heavier.
#6. Gray Wall Jumping Spider
- Menemerus bivittatus
- This species has a flattened torso and short, thick, greyish-white hair. Tufts of dark brown hair grow close to the eyes.
- The male has a brownish-white stripe on each side of the abdomen and a black dorsal stripe.
- The female has a larger abdomen and is typically lighter brown. In addition, her abdomen is rimmed with broad black stripes that come together at the end.
- Both sexes are about 9 mm (0.3 in) long, but males are usually slightly smaller.
The Gray Wall Jumping Spider is native to Malawi but has since spread throughout the world. It frequently appears on the exterior of buildings or tree trunks in gardens.
Instead of weaving a web around their prey, the Gray Wall Jumping spider stalks the prey before springing on it to attack. Their wide eyes and visual acuity allow them to easily focus on objects and distinguish between different colors. And, using their exceptional jumping ability, they can seize their prey in the blink of an eye.
Interestingly, male Gray Wall Jumping Spiders can produce sounds as part of courtship behavior. The hairs on their femurs and the teeth on the chelicerae (small claws on the front of the mouth) make clicking noises that attract females. These sounds are too low and quiet for humans to hear, but it isn’t hard to imagine the creepy noise!
#7. Tropical Tent-web Spider
- Cyrtophora citricola
- Females are 10 to 15 mm (0.3-0.5 in) long.
- Males are about 3mm (0.12 in).
- Color variations in females are typical – some are brown, while others have black and white markings on their abdomen. Males are usually solid black.
The Tropical Tent-web Spider makes an unusual web that resembles mesh curtains. Prey is deflected onto the orb-web by a network of threads that support the orb-web and form a tent. This species spends most of its time on its complex web. Each spider has its own space, but they often form large groups with interconnected webs.
These spiders can be hard to find in Malawi because they are nocturnal, which keeps them hidden from predators throughout the day. However, they spend most of the night capturing prey, including moths and flies.
Tropical Tent-web spiders catch prey in three distinct phases. In the initial stage, the spider bites or wraps its prey in silk to incapacitate it. Then, they remove it from the web itself and carry the prey to the hub of the web. Finally, once they reach the safety of the center of the web, they consume their meal.
#8. Banded Garden Spider
- Argiope trifasciata
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 (0.51-0.57 in) long.
- Males are considerably smaller, reaching only ⅓ of the females’ length.
The Banded Garden Spider builds an enormous web, typically around 60 cm (23.6 in) 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 insects that the Banded Garden spider eats.
The female can usually be found resting at the center 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 center 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 in Malawi and are not aggressive. If disturbed, they may drop from the center 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.
#9. Adanson’s House Jumper
- Hasarius adansoni
- Males have more colorful bodies, with black abdomen color and two white crescents on their bodies. They grow up to 6mm (0.23 in).
- Females are dark brown and don’t have any noticeable pattern, and are about 8mm (0.31 in) long.
- Both sexes have long legs covered with spines and hairs.
The Adanson’s House Jumper lives in warm climates all over Malawi. Its natural habitats include woodland and low vegetation, but since they are highly adaptable, they can be found in any terrestrial area.
Although they can reuse their nests, they usually build new ones each night. Their webs are relatively small, about twice the size of the spider. The Adanson’s House Jumper is quite sociable and can be seen grouped in bigger numbers.
One of the most interesting traits of this species is its ability to jump incredible distances. They hunt by leaping several centimeters onto their prey, grabbing them, and injecting venom by bite.
#10. Shorthorn Kitespider
- Gasteracantha sanguinolenta
Also known as the Thorn spider, the Jewel spider, the Star spider, or the Kite spider.
- Females are 8-10 mm (0.31-0.39 in) long. They’re bright cream, white or yellow, red, and black. Their abdomen is usually black at the sides and white at the center, with red spots.
- Males are several times smaller and lack bright coloring.
- Their abdomen is sclerotized (hardened) with four sides and two back spines.
Unlike other spiders in Malawi, this species is most commonly 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.
#11. Scimitar-horn Kitespider
- Gasteracantha falcicornis
- Females have abdomens that are bright red with deep black spots.
- Males are considerably smaller and don’t have spines or bright colors.
- This species has a hardened abdomen with three pairs of horns – two lateral and one posterior set.
The Scimitar-horn Kitespider thrives in tropical and subtropical climates. Look for this spider in Malawi near forests and tall grass savannas.
As with other orb-weaving spiders, the Scimitar-horn Kitespider builds flat webs with sticky silk. It chooses locations between trees and high grass and feeds on insects caught on the web. This species releases enzymes into the insects’ bodies to digest its prey and then drinks their liquified insides.
#12. Longleg Dandy
- Portia schultzi
- Females are pale yellow with black markings and some scattered white and orange or brown hairs on the upper side.
- Males are orange or brown with darker brown mottling and grey hairs over the surface and broad white bands on the base of the legs.
- The legs of both sexes are slender.
This spider is most active during the day in Malawi.
Because of their small eyes, Longleg Dandy spiders have poor night vision, which makes them vulnerable to predators such as birds, mantises, and frogs. So, they spend the night in the safety of their webs and forage when the sun is up.
The Longleg Dandy usually catches prey by jumping on it, but females sometimes create webs to catch food. The “capture webs” are funnel-shaped and wide at the top. They even attach their webs to existing webs of other spiders to lure them in! When they catch big prey, the Longleg Dandy spiders release a powerful venom that paralyzes their prey.
#13. Redleg Orbweaver
- Trichonephila inaurata
The Redleg Orbweaver is also known as the Red-legged Golden Orb-weaver Spider and Red-legged Nephila Spider.
- Females are larger, but their coloring is similar to males.
- The coloring of the abdomen can be brown, black, grey, orange, or bright yellow, with black markings.
- As the name suggests, the legs are black with red markings.
Redleg Orbweavers make large, asymmetric webs reaching up to 1.5m (5 ft) in diameter! Once their web is built, they become a permanent resident, never leaving it again.
Instead of building a new web like some other orb-weavers, they rebuild and fix the parts that need reinforcement. Redleg Orbweavers eat the part of the web that needs to be repaired and then replace it with new silk. Their webs are so strong that even bats and birds can get stuck in them!
This colonizing species is known for forming huge groups and joining webs to cover as much area as possible, increasing prey quantity. Mosquitoes, moths, flies, beetles, and wasps make up most of the Redleg Orbweaver’s diet.
#14. Longhorn Kitespider
- Gasteracantha milvoides
Also known as Spiny-backed Orb Weaver, Spiny Spider, or Spiny Orb-weaver.
- This species’ coloring is variable; bright red, yellow, orange, or white are all common. Most individuals have black markings.
- Females have six noticeable spines on their hard shell-like abdomens. The middle pair of horns is drastically bigger than the other two.
- Males lack vibrant spine colors and are considerably smaller.
The Longhorn Kitespider is primarily found in Malawi in forests, woodlands, or shady gardens with shrubs. They construct their webs in trees, at least one meter off the ground.
The Longhorn Kitespider catch prey on their webs and injects enzymes that dissolve the insect’s insides before consuming it. Although they are considered venomous because of this digestive fluid, they aren’t known to be dangerous to humans. However, their intimidating appearance means that most people don’t stick around to find out!
#15. Southern Baboon Spiders
- Subfamily Harpactirinae
Note: Baboon spiders are a subfamily of tarantulas broadly present on the African continent. Around nine genera and over one hundred species are present in Malawi. This section gives general information on the entire group.
- This species reaches a maximum length of 15 cm (5.9 in), including the legs.
- Their coloring varies from light brown to dark brown or black. Some species can also have grey, beige, orange, or light yellow colors.
- Hair covers the legs and body.
Southern Baboon Spiders are members of the Tarantula family. These ground-dwelling spiders use their fangs and chelicerae (pincer-like mouth appendages) to dig burrows that they line with silk. Their natural habitats are savanna forests, arid scrublands, and grasslands.
They are vicious hunters, preying on insects, small rodents, reptiles, and just about anything else they can take down. Baboon Spiders lift their front legs to appear bigger and more intimidating when disturbed or threatened. If the threat continues, they will bite and release venom.
The fangs of a Baboon Spider can be more than a centimeter long! As you can imagine, a bite from one can be very painful, and their venom can cause localized swelling. However, it doesn’t pose a major health concern to humans.
#16. Bark Spiders
- Genus Caerostris
Note: Bark Spiders are a genus of 18 species that range over the African continent.
- Females are black or brown, with long white hairs on the upper body. Some individuals are spotted with red, yellow, or orange.
- Males have a lighter color, usually without any spots. In addition, they are considerably smaller, one-third of the length of an average female.
Bark Spiders are a genus of orb-weaving spiders in Malawi, most commonly found in tropical climates.
They get their name from their incredible effective camouflage, which helps them blend into tree bark as they climb and move throughout the forest.
The silk that Bark Spiders produce is the toughest biological material humans have ever studied, twice as strong as any other spider silk known to science. And not only do Bark Spiders have the strongest silk, but they also build the largest webs. This impressive species holds the record with a surface area of up to 2.8 square meters (30 sq ft).
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Bark Spiders is the unique location of their webs. They construct them directly above a river or stream, so insects flying above the water are snared in its web. This genus has both brawn and brains!
#17. Lobed Argiope
- Argiope lobata
- The female’s abdomen has black and white stripes and appears jagged or, as many say, “lobed.”
- Males have the same coloration but don’t have the lobes on the abdomen.
- Females are large and grow up to 25 mm (0.98 in) long. Males are much smaller and only measure around 6 mm (0.23 in).
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. Look for them in bushes in warm rocky areas that are dry and sunny.
Make sure to look at the center of their web, as you should see a zigzag stabilimenta, which is a silk-shaped web decoration. Scientists aren’t exactly sure what the purpose is of having a stabilimenta, but the dominant theory is that it helps attract insects to the web by reflecting UV light. Interestingly, 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.
Check out these other guides about animals found in Malawi!
Which of these spiders have you seen before in Malawi?
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