Huntsman Spider

Heteropoda venatoria

huntsman spider

Huntsman spider, photographed at Green Cay Nature Center in Boynton Beach, Palm Beach County, in May 2014. Note this guy is missing a limb and part of another.

The huntsman, Heteropoda venatoria, isn't the most socialable of spiders, but it's no recluse either. Please pardon the pun, but it does have a purpose: the huntsman is often mistaken for the rather dangerous brown recluse spider.

In fact, we heard a few observers call the spider pictured here a brown recluse. It most definitely is not. The brown recluse isn't related and other than having elongated legs, doesn't really look anything like the huntsman.

The flattened body, long legs with their distinctive black spots, the black border around the head, the stripe that appears to be extending from head down the abdomen all say huntsman, and probably a male at that.

Members of Heteropoda are among the largest spiders in the world. The huntsman found in Florida, H venatoria, has a body length of about an inch and a leg span that can hit five inches. Females are larger than males.

The huntsman is not native to Florida, but is believed to hale from Asia. How and when it got here is not known. One theory is that it arrived here via a shipment of bananas from Central America. It does not tolerate cold weather, and in places where freezing temperatures occur, it is unable to survive in the wild but will seek shelter in homes, sheds, barns and other places where it can find a crack or crevice, any place that may offer a little warmth. South Florida, South Texas and Southern California are balmy enough for the huntsman to be an outdoorsman year round. They're also found in parts of Georgia and South Carolina. In Asia, the huntsman are prized, because of their habit of dining on cockroaches and other indoor pests. It doesn't spin a web to trap a meal but rather relies on speed and powerful jaws to catch its prey. It kills by injecting venom into its victims, usually insects or other bugs. Scientists are studying huntsman venom and how it affects its victims for leads to develop new insecticides.

To humans, however, they're pretty close to harmless, although they will give a locally painful bite if they believe themselves to be threatened. Females carrying an egg sac are known to be aggressive. They are nocturnal, finding some dark hiding place to spend the day before coming out at night in search of a meal.

Huntsman spiders have a body length of about an inch, but their legs can have a spread of three to five inches. Females have a larger body than the guys, but the guys have longer legs. Females carry their eggs in a sac under their bodies. The sac can have 200 or more eggs. The presence of an egg sac can render huntsman females to be immobile. Their flattened bodies allow them to creep into cracks and crevices that might bar other large spiders. The scientific name means hunter with unequal legs.

Huntsman are also called crab spiders, giant crab spiders, housekeeping spiders for reasons mentioned above and banana spiders, because they're commonly found on the fruit. It is a member of Sparassidae, a family of more than a thousand spiders, although some put it in Heteropodidae.

Fun fact: there is a species of huntsman named after the late singer, David Bowie. It's known scientifically as Heteropoda davidbowie.

Published by Wild South Florida, PO Box 7241, Delray Beach, FL 33482.

Photographs by David Sedore. Photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without permission.