If you’re one of the 350 million people across the world who suffer from arachnophobia, then we advise you not to read this article!
(But if you like scary creatures, why not check out our guide to Thailand’s Dangerous Snakes when you’re done here).
There’s no shortage of scary, hairy spiders in Thailand, including tarantulas, sac spiders, giant Huntsmen, and of course the home-wrecking Black Widow. Over the next few minutes, we’re going to look at some alarming arachnids you’ll want to avoid meeting as you travel through Thailand.
Last chance to choose a different post…!
Why Are There So Many Spiders in Thailand?
Spiders live in almost every habitat on earth, and there are over 48,200 different species of spider in the world. The only places where no spiders have been found are the polar regions, the highest mountains and in the oceans. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any spiders there; it just means we haven’t found them yet.
Spiders are cold-blooded and not particularly attracted to warmth. But, given a choice, they’d all pack their bags tomorrow and head to the tropics. Not only do they thrive in the tropical climate, they’re also able to find plenty of food. This is one of the reasons why spiders tend to be bigger in warmer climates.
Nobody knows exactly how many species of spider live in Thailand, but the latest estimates are between 700 and 1,200. Thailand is home to 15 unique species that have yet to be recorded in any other country. Spiders with Thai passports — cool!
Are There Any Poisonous Spiders in Thailand?
No. And that’s because there’s no such thing as a poisonous spider! According to biologists poisons can only be digested — the toxin only gets into your body when you eat the thing that’s poisonous. That’s why when we accidentally ingest a harmful toxin, such as by eating uncooked chicken, we call it ‘food poisoning’.
But when a creature injects its toxin through a bite or sting, as with spiders and snakes, then that animal is venomous, not poisonous. Spiders produce a toxin, which is carried in their venom. That venom is injected by a bite, so spiders are venomous, not poisonous.
Of the 48,000+ species of spider in the world, only 27 are known to have ever caused human fatalities. Actual death from a spider bite is extremely rare, averaging less than three people per year (across the whole world), and these are usually from an allergic reaction to the toxin, and not from the toxin itself.
What To Do if a Spider Bites You (in Thailand)
Spiders are usually not inherently aggressive, but some will bite humans as a last defence if they feel threatened. The reaction to a spider bite varies from person to person, and from spider to spider. Some bites can develop into serious skin lesions and can leave open wounds which could become infected.
If you’re bitten by a spider in Thailand, you’ll be unlikely to know the species so the best thing to do is seek immediate medical attention. Here’s a quick checklist of what you can do until that attention arrives.
- Clean the wound. Use mild soap and water and apply an antibiotic ointment.
- Apply a cool compress. Use a cloth dampened with cold water or filled with ice. This helps reduce pain and swelling. If the bite is on an arm or leg, elevate it.
- Take an over-the-counter pain medication if needed. If the wound is itchy, an antihistamine (like Benadryl or Chlor-Trimeton) may help.
Once you get to a hospital or clinic, you’ll find antivenom treatments for all types of spider bite, along with anti-allergens. Thailand treats many hundreds of spider bite patients every year, so you’ll be in experienced hands.
What’s the Biggest Spider in the World?
Well, this hasn’t really got anything to do with Thailand, but we bet you still want to know! There are two accepted answers: the Goliath Birdeater — a member of the tarantula family — and the Giant Huntsman.
The Goliath Birdeater (Theraphosa blondi) is found in the rainforests of South America, and it’s the largest spider in the world by mass, weighing in at up to 175 g (4.63 ounces oz). Despite its name, the Goliath hardly ever eats birds, preferring a steady diet of worms and insects. However, in the wild, T. Blondi has been observed feeding on rodents, frogs, toads, lizards, and even snakes.
The Giant Huntsman was only discovered in 2001, and it’s considered to be the largest spider by leg span, which can reach up to 30 cm (12 inches) per leg. Heteropoda maxima, as it’s known to its friends, can only be found in Laos, at the entrance to a specific group of caves. So it’s not a worry for visitors to Thailand. But it has a cousin you should try to avoid….
The Huntsman Spider (Heteropoda venatoria)
There’s no sugar-coating it: this is a very large spider. Its leg span can reach up to 4-5 inches, and it can run very fast (especially across your floor!) In Thailand, they’re often as large as a grown man’s hand.
The Huntsman is one of the few spiders that doesn’t spin a web, preferring to roam around the woodland floor where its natural camouflage makes it all-but-invisible to prey. However, the Huntsman is a curious spider, and often wanders into houses or rural dwellings.
Despite their size, these spiders are shy and quite scared of humans. They might bite in self-defence if handled roughly, but their toxin is not considered dangerous to us. The symptoms of a venomous bite are similar to a bee-sting: mild discomfort and swelling that will recede in 2-3 days.
Black Widow (latrodectus elegans)
There are about 40 different species of the Black widow, but all of them take part in the most gruesome and fatal mating routine: the female is notorious for killing the male shortly after the mating process. Canny males have learned to tell if the female has just eaten, making it safer for them to advance and try their luck. The distinctive red hourglass shape on the female is a well-known warning sign in nature, and with good reason — black widows are highly toxic.
The Black Widow is a well-travelled spider, having taken up residence in almost every country of the world, including Thailand. Female widows prefer to spin their (very messy) three-dimensional web in corners of fields and gardens, or sometimes near a woodpile. The female will hardly ever stray from the immediate area, and she rarely ventures into homes — preferring to stay in her web, patiently waiting for her next meal. The male isn’t really worthy of comment: he doesn’t even spin a web and is of zero harm to humans.
According to National Geographic, black widow venom is up to 15 times stronger than the venom from a rattlesnake. Luckily, like most creatures, the Black Widow spider will only bite a human if disturbed. In fact, only the bite of the female poses any sort of threat, with the venom carrying a neurotoxin — latrotoxin — which can cause severe pain and muscle rigidity. However, contrary to popular belief, most bite victims do not suffer any serious damage, and no actual fatalities have been reported since 1983.
The Brown Widow
As well as the Black Widow above, Thailand has its own unique version: latrodectus geometricus. Known as the Brown Widow, it’s slightly smaller and likes to settle inside garages and other human structures. The bite is still extremely toxic, so make sure you seek immediate medical attention if you think you’ve been bitten by any colour of widow spider: black or brown.
Yellow Sac Spider (Cheiracanthium punctorium)
Unlike our furry friends above, this spider is tiny, ranging between 5 and 10 mm long. The yellow sacs have an abdomen that ranges in colour from beige through to a pale yellow, and notably a pair of sharp fangs.
During the day, Yellow Sac Spiders sleep or rest inside flattened silk tubes, known as sacs (hence the name!) These are usually built in a protected area, such as within the folds of a leaf or under a log pile. But they also see the insides of a house as protected, so occasionally you’ll find their sacs in your house, usually where a wall meets a ceiling. They hunt during the night, and can often be found crawling down a wall to track down their evening meal, which usually includes other spiders.
Although tiny, the Yellow Sac’s fangs can easily picture human skin and the venom can have mild neurotoxic effects, which can be serious unless treated quickly. Most bites occur when the spider is disturbed outdoors, so always wear gloves if you’re planning a spot of gardening.
The Cobalt Blue Tarantula (Haplopelma lividum)
There are over 850 species of tarantula across the world, but only three can be found in Thailand: the Thai Zebra, the Thai Black and the Cobalt Blue. These large spiders typically have leg spans ranging from 13 to 20 cm (4.5 to 8 inches).
The Cobalt Blue is very popular to keep as a pet, and it’s one of the rarest spiders in Thailand. At first glance, the spider looks like it’s a solid black colour; but, under the right light, it glows a shimmering blue. Truly one of the most beautiful spiders in the whole of Thailand.
This spider is one of the ‘old-world’ tarantulas, and like the others, it makes its home by burrowing into the ground of the tropical rainforests, often several feet deep. Here it stays until night, when it climbs out of the burrow and lays in wait for any passing prey, including small birds, lizards, frogs, and insects.
The Cobalt Blue is one of the most aggressive tarantulas on earth. It doesn’t like to be touched, and it will aggressively defend its burrow. First, they will rise up with raised front legs and visible fangs — sending a clear warning to back off. If that doesn’t work, they will actively attack. Their bite is very painful and the highly-potent venom can result in severe muscle cramps and inflammation.
The Other Two Tarantula Spiders in Thailand
Don’t worry – we didn’t forget – we know you wanted to see some more pictures of tarantulas!
The Thai Zebra Tarantula (Cyriopagopus albostriatus) gets its name from the amazing striped patterns on the legs and abdomen. It’s another ‘old-world’ burrower, so it’s nature is similar to the Cobalt Blue. In Thailand, this is also known as the edible spider. Yes, these tasty tarantulas are served deep-fried! They taste like an uninspired cross between chicken and cod.
The Thailand Black (Haplopelma minax), or sometimes ‘The Big Black’, is regarded as “evil” and “wicked” by tarantula experts, and rightly so! It’s a particularly nasty and vicious example of the old-world tarantulas. And it’s sleek, jet-black clothing just makes it look even more of a villain. Even its Latin name is evil: Haplopelma Minax means “terrifying tarantula”!
Well, that’s our pick of some of the creepiest crawlies you’ll meet (or not!) as you trek around Thailand. But, to be fair, spiders get a rough deal: it’s the built-in fear factor which makes people afraid of them.
Spiders, even the ugly, angry ones, are an important and fascinating part of our natural environment. You only need to watch a spider spinning a web to realise that they’re nature’s architectural aces – far more deft at construction than we can ever be. Spiders also play their part in our world’s ecology, by keeping down the insect population and helping to control rodent numbers.
Spider venom, although potentially lethal, is being used in medical research as a post-stroke treatment, and the silk they spin is being studied for next-gen fibre technology.
Even though we’ve only covered a fraction of all the different spiders in Thailand, we hope we’ve managed to show you how varied they can be, in size, temperament and ferocity.
If you get a chance to take some interesting photos of Thailand’s amazing spiders, we’d love it if you could upload a few to us!
Thanks for your time, and we hope you enjoyed reading our article. If you have any questions about Thailand, or about travel in general, don’t hesitate to contact us. We love to help, and we love to talk.
…we’ll be seeing you!
BTW: Did you hear all the fuss about that snake cave in Thailand? We’ve got the real pictures of the snake carvings in Naka cave and the story that goes with it. Why not find out some more?