Huntsman spider

Huntsman spider
Palystes castaneus, showing Sparassid pattern of eyes in two rows of four, with the robust build and non-clavate pedipalps of a female.
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Arachnida
Order: Araneae
Section: Entelegynae
Superfamily: Sparassoidea
Family: Sparassidae
Bertkau, 1872
82 genera, 1009 species

Sparassidae (formerly Heteropodidae) are a family of spiders known as Huntsman spiders because of their speed and mode of hunting. They also are called giant crab spiders, because of their size and appearance. Larger species sometimes are referred to as wood spiders, because of their preference for woody places (forest, mine shafts, woodpiles, wooden shacks). In southern Africa they are known as rain spiders and lizard-eating spiders.[1]

Sparassidae occur in practically all warm temperate to tropical regions of the world, including much of Australasia, Africa, Asia, the Mediterranean, and the Americas.[2]



Palystes superciliosus, ventral aspect, showing aposematic colouration, plus typically masculine gracile build and clavate pedipalps armed with mating spurs
A huntsman spider with its meal, a small beetle
Adult huntsman spider on the underside of a log in Victoria, Australia
Olios argelasius

Sparassidae are eight-eyed spiders. The eyes appear in two largely forward-facing rows of four on the anterior aspect of the prosoma. Many species grow very large – in Laos, Heteropoda maxima males attain a legspan of 250–300 mm (about 10–12 in). Persons unfamiliar with spider taxonomy commonly confuse large species with tarantulas, but huntsman spiders can generally be identified by their legs, which, rather than being jointed vertically relative to the body, are twisted in such a way that in some attitudes the legs extend forward in a crab-like fashion.

On their upper surfaces the main colours of huntsman spiders are inconspicuous shades of brown or grey, but many species have undersides more or less aposematically marked in black-and-white, with reddish patches over the mouthparts. Their legs bear fairly prominent spines, but the rest of their bodies are smoothly furry. They tend to live under rocks, bark and similar shelters, but human encounters are commonly in sheds, garages and other infrequently-disturbed places. The banded huntsman (Holconia) is large, grey to brown with striped bands on its legs. The Badge Huntsman (Neosparassus) is larger still, brown and hairy. The tropical or brown huntsman (Heteropoda) is also large and hairy, with mottled brown, white and black markings. The eyesight of these spiders is not nearly as good as that of the Salticidae (jumping spiders). Nevertheless, their vision is quite sufficient to detect approaching humans or other large animals from some distance.

Habitat and distribution

Members of the Sparassidae are common in Australia, but also in many warm-temperate-to-tropical parts of the world. They have been accidentally introduced to many parts of the world, including China, Philippines, Japan, India and southern parts of the United States, such as Florida and Puerto Rico. A species of huntsman can be found in Hawaii, where it is commonly known as a cane spider. In general they are likely to be found wherever ships may bring them as unintended passengers to areas that are not too cold for them to survive in the winter. In southern Africa they are commonly known as rain spiders because of their tendency to seek shelter before rain storms, often entering human habitations when doing so.[3][4]

As adults, huntsman spiders do not build webs, but hunt and forage for food: their diet consists primarily of insects and other invertebrates, and occasionally small skinks and geckos. They live in the crevices of tree bark, but will frequently wander into homes and vehicles. They are able to travel extremely fast, often using a springing jump while running, and walk on walls and even on ceilings. They also tend to exhibit a "cling" reflex if picked up, making them difficult to shake off and much more likely to bite. The females are fierce defenders of their egg sacs and young. They will generally make a threat display if provoked, but if the warning is ignored they may attack and bite.

Toxicity and aggression

Like practically all spiders apart from the Uloboridae, Sparassidae use venom to immobilise prey and to assist in digestion. They have been known to inflict defensive bites, but are not widely regarded as dangerous to healthy humans.[5] Huntsman spiders are widely considered beneficial because they feed on insect pests such as cockroaches. Many people will relocate huntsman spiders to the garden or ignore them outright rather than kill them.

There have been reports of members of various genera such as Palystes,[6] Neosparassus (formerly called Olios) and several others, inflicting bites. The effects vary, including local swelling and pain, sometimes with nausea, headache, vomiting, irregular pulse rate, and heart palpitations, indicating some systemic neurological effects, especially when the bites were severe or repeated. However, the formal study of spider bites is fraught with complications, including unpredictable infections, dry bites, shock, and nocebo effects. An investigation into spider bites in Australia, in which Sparassidae figured prominently, did not note any severe or unusual symptoms resulting from confirmed bites from some of the most notorious genera, particularly Neosparassus.

It is not always clear what provokes Sparassidae to bite people, but it is known that female members of this family will aggressively defend their egg sacs and young against perceived threats. The frequency of bites on various body parts suggests that by far the most are accidental or incidental, resulting from inadvertent handling.[2] Bites from Sparassids usually do not require hospital treatment and apparently do not cause necrosis.

Sound production in mating rituals

Males of Heteropoda venatoria, one of the huntsman spiders that seems to easily find its way around the world, have recently been found to deliberately make a substrate-borne sound when they detect a chemical (pheromone) left by a nearby female of their species. The males anchor themselves firmly to the surface onto which they have crawled and then use their legs to transmit vibrations from their bodies to the surface. Most of the sound emitted is produced by strong vibrations of the abdomen. The characteristic frequency of vibration and the pattern of bursts of sound identify them to females of their species, who will approach if they are interested in mating.[7]

Folk lore and urban legend

Being large, swift and of a shape to elicit arachnophobic reactions from susceptible people, large Sparassidae are the subjects of many superstitions and exaggerations. One such example is the clock spider urban legend from the early years of the 21st century. Some time around 2002, a discussion was started on an Internet message board based on pictures of an allegedly "clock-sized" Sparassid spider on a wall. That discussion, and its derivatives, lasted for several months.[8]

List of genera

Isopeda villosa discarding its old exoskeleton
  • Adcatomus
  • Anaptomecus
  • Anchognatha
  • Beregama
  • Berlandia
  • Bhutaniella
  • Carparachne
  • Cebrennus
  • Cerbalus
  • Cercetius
  • Chrosioderma
  • Clastes
  • Demastes (Genus)|Damastes
  • Decaphora
  • Defectrix
  • Delena
  • Dermochrosia
  • Eodelena
  • Eusparassus
  • Exopalystes
  • Geminia
  • Gnathopalystes
  • Heteropoda
  • Holconia
  • Irileka
  • Isopeda
  • Isopedella
  • Keilira
  • Leucorchestris
  • Macrinus (genus)|Macrinus
  • Martensopoda
  • Megaloremmius
  • Micrommata
  • Nolavia
  • Nonianus
  • Olios
  • Orchestrella
  • Origes
  • Paenula (genus)|Paenula
  • Palystella
  • Palystes
  • Panaretella
  • Pandercetes
  • Parapalystes
  • Pediana
  • Pleorotus
  • Polybetes
  • Prusias (spider)|Prusias
  • Prychia
  • Pseudomicrommata
  • Pseudopoda
  • Pseudosparianthis
  • Remmius
  • Rhacocnemis
  • Rhitymna
  • Sagellula
  • Sampaiosia
  • Sarotesius
  • Sinopoda
  • Sivalicus
  • Sparianthina
  • Sparianthis
  • Spariolenus
  • Spatala
  • Staianus
  • Stasina
  • Stasinoides
  • Stipax
  • Strandiellum
  • Thelcticopis
  • Thomasettia
  • Tibellomma
  • Tychicus (spider)|Tychicus
  • Typostola
  • Vindullus
  • Yiinthi
  • Zachria

See also


  1. ^ Norman Larsen. "Palystes (rain spiders, lizard-eating spiders)". Iziko Museums of Cape Town. Biodiversity Explorer. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Geoffrey K. Isbister & David Hirst (2003). "A prospective study of definite bites by spiders of the family Sparassidae (huntsmen spiders) with identification to species level". Toxicon 42 (2): 163–171. doi:10.1016/S0041-0101(03)00129-6. PMID 12906887. 
  3. ^ Jon Fouskaris. "The African Huntsman Spider". Retrieved February 8, 2008. 
  4. ^ P. M. C. Croeser (1996). "A revision of the African huntsman spider genus Palystes L. Koch, 1875 (Araneae: Heteropodidae)". Annals of the Natal Museum 37: 1–122. 
  5. ^ S. H. Skaife (1963). A Naturalist Remembers. Longmans South Africa. 
  6. ^ D'Ewes, Dudley; Wayward naturalist, Chapter 12; Howard Timmins, Cape Town, 1967
  7. ^ Jerome S. Rovner (1980). "Vibration in Heteropoda venatoria (Sparassidae): a third method of sound production in spiders" (PDF). Journal of Arachnology 8 (2): 193–200. 
  8. ^ "Clockspider". Retrieved October 18, 2011. 

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • huntsman spider — noun (Aust) Any spider of the many varieties belonging to the Heteropodidae (or Sparassidae) family, esp those of the genus Isopoda, typically large and flat bodied, inhabiting tree bark • • • Main Entry: ↑hunt * * * huntsman spider, a large, tan …   Useful english dictionary

  • Huntsman Spider — Riesenkrabbenspinnen Heteropoda venatoria Systematik Unterstamm: Kieferklauenträger (Chelicerata) Klas …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • huntsman spider — noun Any spider from the taxonomic family Sparassidae …   Wiktionary

  • huntsman spider — /hʌntsmən ˈspaɪdə / (say huntsmuhn spuyduh) noun any of numerous species of the family Sparassidae, especially the medium to large spiders of the genus Isopoda, with flattened, brown or grey, hairy bodies. See tarantula, triantelope …   Australian English dictionary

  • Brown huntsman spider — Scientific classification Kingdom: Animalia Phylum …   Wikipedia

  • Huntsman (disambiguation) — Huntsman may refer to:*Hunters who: **use guns/weapons for hunting **hunt with horses and dogs (e.g. fox hunting) *Huntsman is also used as a military designation for units traditionally raised from huntsmen, see Huntsmen (military)Huntsman may… …   Wikipedia

  • Spider wasp — Spider wasps Scientific classification Kingdom: Animalia Phylum …   Wikipedia

  • huntsman — /ˈhʌntsmən/ (say huntsmuhn) noun (plural huntsmen) 1. the man in charge of hounds during a hunt. 2. a man who hunts game, etc. 3. → huntsman spider. {combination of two words originally in a syntactical relationship; hunt s (genitive case) + man} …   Australian English dictionary

  • spider — spiderless, adj. spiderlike, adj. /spuy deuhr/, n. 1. any of numerous predaceous arachnids of the order Araneae, most of which spin webs that serve as nests and as traps for prey. 2. (loosely) any of various other arachnids resembling or… …   Universalium

  • Huntsman Spinne — Riesenkrabbenspinnen Heteropoda venatoria Systematik Unterstamm: Kieferklauenträger (Chelicerata) Klas …   Deutsch Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.