In Africa, respect and reverence should be paid not only to the large stampeding creatures (elephants, hippos and so forth), but also to the smallest. This is not just a matter of appreciating all manner of animals, lizards, and insects, but for your own safety. Should you visit and run into any of these African spiders and creepy crawlies — which range from beautiful to hideous, harmful to terrifying, harmless to interesting– it’s best to proceed with caution!
Sources: darlingtonschool.org, nationalgeographic.com, goafrica.about.com, biodiversityexplorer.org
This article originally appeared on AFKInsider.com.
1. Ogre-Faced Spider (Deinopidae)
We’ll start off with this handsome fellow. The saucer eyes peer into your soul and the formidable fangs wait to cling on to you. Found worldwide, this crawler is also known as the Net-Casting Spider in Australia, as its very intricate web can grow to three times its size in an instant to ensnare a victim. In the morning, if no bounty has been captured, the Ogre consumes the web. Found over the African continent but especially in the southern countries, Deino the Ogre spider carries an amount of venom which can kill an insect or small bird, but not a human.
2. Six-Eyed Sand Spider (Sicarius)
In case you were wondering, “Sicarius” means “murderer” in Latin. So no need to worry. Found mostly in the Namib and Kalahari deserts, it will bury itself in the sands and then lash out at its prey, although this is rare, as Six-Eye can live without food or drink for at least a year. Rabbits beware: one bite can kill you in a few hours. However, there are no recorded human fatalities to date. Its venom causes multi-tissue breakdown and blood vessel leakage, so best to not play hardball with this six-eyed desert dweller.
3. Darwin’s Bark Spider (Caerostris darwini)
Perhaps not so much terrifying as purely riveting, the silk from this spider found in Madagascar is the toughest biological material ever studied. It also spins the largest web in the world, stretching anchor lines across rivers up to 82 feet in length. Darwini chooses to catch her prey above bodies of water, utilizing an area unused by all the other spiders who tend to spin their webs on dry land. Though she loves to munch on mayflies, not humans, it would still be the stuff of nightmares to row your canoe into one of her webs.
4. Jumping Spider (Evarcha culicivora)
Found in Uganda and Kenya, this multi-eyed terror prefers to stalk its prey rather than spin a web and bide its time. This is some serial killer-style stuff. To increase your affinity towards this creepster: it craves human blood! Okay, Eva the Evarcha doesn’t directly suck from your neck like Dracula, but instead deliberately hunts out female mosquitoes which have fed on human vertebrae blood. Scientific tests have showed that Eva will prefer blood-filled lady mosquitoes (male mosquitoes do not suck the blood of animals) over all other insects, proving that its prey preference is truly humans!
5. Rain Spider (Huntsman Spider)
Popping up frequently in Southern African homes around the season of the summer rains, these African spiders look absolutely terrifying, but their venom is weak and unlikely to adversely affect humans. Also called the Crab Spider because of its leg span which can sometimes stretch to three inches, the females can get aggressive when defending their eggs. An interesting experiment was done in 1959 to test how lethal the Huntsman’s poison was: scientists allowed one to bite an adult guinea pig on the nose, and seven minutes later the pig died. It was later ruled out that the venom didn’t kill it…but the shock of seeing the spider did!
6. Baboon Spider (Theraphosidae)
Found mostly in the scrublands, savannas, and grasslands all over the continent, we know these African spiders as common tarantulas, and indeed they are of the subfamily species. As with Tarantulas, Baboon Spiders have a quite toxic venom which can make a human vomit, walk funny, and experience shock symptoms. Nocturnal in their living habits, they derive their name from their thick furry fingers which resemble a baboon’s finger. However, while they may seem like the end of days to humans, it’s actually the opposite situation, as they are a threatened species in Africa and are declining rapidly in numbers. Humans, once again, are the most dangerous animal.
7. Violin Spider (Loxosceles)
One of the most dangerous spiders in the United States is the Brown Recluse, and here you have Africa’s spin on her. The smaller the scarier: though only less than an inch in size, the poison this musician packs can create a skin infection which can blister out into a very lethal secondary infection for humans if left untreated. Africa hosts 15 species all over the land, and their webs are normally spun under rock or logs. The name of these African spiders comes from not the sweet music fiddled over your grave after they bite you, but from the violin-shaped marking on their thorax.
8. Button Spiders (Latrodectus)
Look familiar? That’s because this vision of hell is the one we’ve been warned about all our lives: Black Widow!! Antidotes are in every South African hospital, as a bite from the Button constitutes a medical emergency. While it’s rare that grown humans die from these fangs, the intense muscular pain and paralysis as a result of their venom entering the bloodstream is of high concern, and old folks and kids are at a great risk of death. In Sub-Saharan Africa, there are six different species of these African spiders, found from Cape Verde to Madagascar.
9. Long-Legged Sac Spider (Cheiracanthium furculatum)
The entire body and legs of this spider found mostly Sub-Saharan regions are colored yellow, but it can be easily distinguished because of its black face. The preferred habitat is the forest, so an overturned rock, log, or plant could find one of them. It is known for being one of the most common African spiders to bite humans, as it is also a home invader that looks for dark warm areas like a bed. Their cytotoxin breaks down tissues and kills cells, and while not inherently dangerous, must be treated.
10. Spitting Spider (Scytodidae)
From the top to the bottom of Africa, you can find the Spitting Spider, harmless to humans but unsightly to behold. Perhaps this is because you may see a bulb of light skittering its way along the ground, which is just because this spider is shiny and glabrous (a scientific word for ‘without hair’). Stealthily approaching their victims (moths, flies, etc.) to a range of about five to 10 millimeters, these African spiders will eject silk all over the helpless creatures, paralyzing them and then attacking them with a disabling bite. South Africa has over 28 species of this spitting creeper.
11. TseTse Fly (Glossina)
We’re done with the African spiders, so now it’s time for the creepy crawlies. The TseTse fly feeds on the blood of vertebrate animals, including humans. Their infamy comes from the ability to spread the disease trypanosomiasis, known as nagana in animals and more commonly as Sleeping Sickness in humans. If diagnosed early enough, sleeping sickness can be treated with modern medicine. But there are still many deaths in Africa caused by the TseTse fly, estimated to be at least 250,000 per year. Animals also suffer in huge numbers, and there are various methods to try to control the fly, including releasing irradiated males, trapping and killing the flies, and pesticides.
12. Siafu (African Ants; Dorylus)
Siafu is a loanword from Swahili, and these ants come with a fearsome reputation. During times of food shortages, the entire colony will take to the road, marching through whatever is in their path. Although it is relatively easy to avoid the massive columns, occasionally the very young or elderly find themselves in the way of the ants, and fall victim at a rate of about 25 a year. Animals and foodstuffs also suffer though, with untold financial damages incurred. There is a small positive in all this, however: in some cases the ants actually act as pest control, by devouring rats and other pests.
13. Fat Tail Scorpion (Parabuthus transvaalicus )
Also known as the Transvaal thick-tailed scorpion, this critter is happily nocturnal, so your chances of seeing it in daytime are lessened. It lives in the dryer zones of South Africa and prefers resting under rocks, making that old adage about not picking up rocks in the desert even more truthful. In case its fearsome appearance didn’t put you off, let’s put this clearly: this is a dangerous scorpion. Not only can it sting you with its impressive tail, it can also “spray” droplets of poison at you as well.
14. Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches (Gromphadorhina portentosa)
Alright, we’ll own up. These aren’t actually dangerous, but they’re guaranteed to give you a fright if you have one suddenly land on you. They’re the largest cockroaches in the world, reaching 2 to 3 inches (5.1–7.6 cm) at maturity. Believe it or not, these are popular as pets, and can live up to five years in captivity. But perhaps they are best known for their ability to “hiss,” which they do by forcing air through openings on each segment of their abdomen, hence their rather apt name.
15. Anopheles Mosquito
Perhaps the most dangerous insect in Africa is the tiny Anopheles mosquito, simply because it carries malaria, which is a killer. Not every species is a carrier however, and mostly it is A. gambiae and A. funestus who do the damage. And with malaria becoming resistant to previously effective forms of treatment, you would be wise to exercise extremely careful precautions while travelling in malaria prone regions of Africa. Millions of children, let alone adults, die from malaria each year.
Related content on AFKTravel: