Biggest Spider in Florida: Top 5
Deciding which type is the biggest spider in Florida is not as straightforward as it sounds.
That's because there are different ways of judging how big a spider is.
You can do it according to:
- The size of its body.
- The size of its leg span.
- The weight of the spider.
Bearing the above in mind, I have listed below the five arachnids that I consider to be Florida's largest.
#1 Golden Silk Orb-Weaver (Banana Spider)
Sometimes called a "banana spider" by local Floridians, the Golden orb-weaver (Nephila clavipes) is most famous for the impressive webs that it builds.
These large spiders build their webs in wooded areas, their webs are three-dimensional, orb-shaped and built using bright yellow silk.
Although the male of the species is small (1/4 inch), the female can be around 3 inches across (including leg span). Brightly colored, with stripy legs, these spiders are difficult to miss.
They look intimidating, but their venom is generally far too weak to be dangerous if you are a healthy adult, unless you are unlucky enough to have an allergic reaction.
Banana Spider Confusion?
The relatively harmless North American Orb-weaver, which is often called a "banana spider", should not be confused with the Brazilian "banana spider", which is far more aggressive and dangerous.
#2 Wolf Spider
These large, hairy spiders are common in Florida. They have heavy-looking bodies and long thick legs. You will see them on walls both inside and outside buildings, as well as out in the yard.
Wolf Spiders don't build webs, they hunt by running, which they do extremely fast. They can even outrun cockroaches, which are one of their food sources.
Florida Wolf Spiders can grow up to two inches in size, although their heavy bodies and thick legs can make them appear bigger.
These spiders are quick to bite if they feel threatened. The bite can be painful and cause redness and swelling. Sometimes the fangs will also cause one or two punctures in the skin.
Interesting Facts About Wolf Spiders
Most spiders have two rows of eyes, but Wolf Spiders have three.
The spiders are also unusual in that they carry their young upon their back until they are ready to hunt for themselves. The female can carry over 100 eggs at a time.
Wolf spiders are able to see at night and are more active during the dark hours.
The biggest enemy of the wolf spider is the hunting wasp.
#3 Black and Yellow Argiope Spider
Black and Yellow Argiope (Argiope aurantia) spiders can be up to an inch in size and are easily identified by their characteristic silver carapace and yellow-and-black markings.
Their webs are large and normally seen along the outskirts of woodlands. Argiope spiders typically hang head down in the center of their webs.
These spiders have poor sight, but are sensitive to vibrations and wind currents. The male of the species tries to impress potential female mates by plucking and vibrating her web.
Are Black and Yellow Argiopes Venomous?
Argiope venom is only mildly toxic, the equivalent to a bee sting, causing redness and swelling.
Argiopes are not aggressive and will only bite if they feel threatened in some way.
#4 Widow Spider
There are four species of widow spider who call Florida their home:
- The Southern Black Widow
- The Northern Black Widow
- The Brown Widow
- The Red Widow.
Unlike the other spiders in the list, the widow packs some serious venom in its bite and can hurt you, so you should certainly seek medical attention as soon as possible if bitten by one.
The Southern Black Widow and the Brown Widow are the ones that you are most likely to encounter as they live around buildings. The Northern Black Widow is only found in the Panhandle area of the state and makes its web on low tree branches. The Red Widow prefers scrub ground for its habitat.
Only the female widow is dangerous. She is also bigger than the male and can be up to 1.5 inches across at full leg span.
Why are They Called Widows?
The widow spider gets its name because the female of the species has a tendency to eat the male after mating.
Scientists speculate that this so that she gets a good source of protein to help her developing young.
The practice may well also explain why the female widow lives for around three years, whereas the male lives for just one or two months.
#5 "Daddy Long Legs" (Harvestmen and Cellar Spiders)
The term "Daddy Long Legs" is used by people to refer to two different species of arachnid with small bodies and very long legs (it is also sometimes used to refer to crane flies too, but that's another story!)
The two species are harvestmen (Opiliones) and cellar spiders (Pholcidae). Although these are separate species, many people struggle to tell them apart and so confuse them together.
Harvestmen are actually not spiders at all, although they are arachnids. They are more closely related to mites and scorpions than they are to spiders. They have tiny bodies but huge leg spans.
Cellar spiders also have tiny bodies and big leg spans, which is why they get confused with harvestmen. Unlike harvestmen, however, this species are actually spiders. Their legs can be up to 2 inches long.
Both harvestmen and cellar spiders are completely harmless.
An Urban Legend about Daddy Long Legs
The urban legend says that Daddy Long Legs are the most venomous animals on the planet, but they are unable to bite humans because their fangs are too small and short. The arachnids are therefore essentially harmless.
The urban legend is false for a number of reasons. One being that there is no known species of Daddy Long Legs with venom glands. Another being that their chelicerae are not actually fangs but grasping claws that are usually tiny and not powerful enough to pierce human skin.
I've not included these spiders in the main list, as technically they are an invasive species from Asia, rather than indigenous to Florida.
There's no doubt that they can be found in Florida, however, especially down towards the southern end of the state, where the temperatures and weather suit them better.
The type found in Florida, H ventoria, has a body length of around an inch and a leg span that can stretch to five inches. As with many spiders, the females are larger than males.
This spider does not build webs, but instead relies on sheer speed and the strength of its jaws to hunt prey.
Their bite is venomous, but so weak it's virtually harmless to humans, causing only localized pain.
© 2015 Paul Goodman