If you’ve ever been to one of the tropical regions of the world, someone or other has probably told you to keep an eye out for banana spiders. So, why is everyone avoiding banana spiders and the banana trees they live in? Are banana spiders venomous? The answer is yes and no.
You see, the term “banana spider” is not actually a scientific classification, but a nickname given to spiders that tend to be found in banana trees. This nickname doesn’t actually refer to one kind of spider, but actually five different types of spider. Out of these five types, there’s really only one that you should be deathly afraid of.
These are the five types of spider commonly referred to as “banana spiders” and some things you should probably know about them:
Brazilian Wandering Spider
This is the spider that you should be absolutely terrified of. Extremely aggressive tendencies combined with venom that can be lethal to humans makes the Brazilian wandering spider the most dangerous spider on the planet. They’re believed to kill more humans yearly than any other spider.
Even scarier than that is the fact that they’re hunting spiders, meaning that they wander around looking for prey rather than building a web, and they hunt at night. That means that you’re most likely to run into a Brazilian wandering spider when you can’t even see it. Freaky.
Like all other banana spiders, Brazilian wandering spiders like to hide on the underside of banana tree leaves, giving you an actual legitimate reason to avoid banana trees at all costs. They’ve also been discovered inside shipped crates of bananas.
The scientific name for Brazilian wandering spiders is Phoneutria. They can have a leg span of up to 7 inches (horrifying), they have short hairs covering most of their bodies, and they are typically brown in color. Brazilian wandering spiders can be found throughout Central America and northern South America. They look quite similar to the genus Cupiennius; however, it’s very important to be able to tell the difference, as Cupiennius are essentially harmless while Phoneutria can be extremely deadly.
This genus of spider is also referred to as a banana spider. As previously stated, they share many physical characteristics with the Brazilian wandering spider, and they also share their affinity for hanging out under banana tree leaves.
Phoneutria can be distinguished by the dense, fine hairs on their pedipalps (the two stumpy little appendages coming from the sides of its mouth). By contrast, Cupiennius often have bright red mouth parts. If there’s absolutely no way that you’re going to get close enough to one of these spiders to look at its mouth, which is understandable, Phoneutria can also be distinguished by the dark stripes on the front sides of the their forelegs and the yellow or white bands on the bottom sides of their forelegs. So, if you don’t see these leg patterns, you’re probably not in any serious danger.
That being said, Cupiennius are still very scary looking. Whether it’s a Cupiennius or a Phoneutria, I would probably run the other way. They can have a leg span of around 5 inches, they have brown hairy bodies with skinny legs, they are very quick, and they also hunt at night. Cupiennius have roughly the same distribution as Phoneutria from Central America to northern South America.
While the appearance of Cupiennius is undeniably the fuel of nightmares, they really aren’t dangerous whatsoever to humans. While they do have venom, the effect of being bitten by one is comparable to that of a bee sting.
Golden Silk Orb-Weaver
In all likelihood, if you’ve been to a tropical region, you’ve seen a golden silk orb-weaver, as they’re extremely common. While I would still argue that the previously mentioned wandering spiders are creepier, the golden silk orb-weaver is pretty freaky to look at in its own right. They’re mostly hairless and have cylindrical bodies with long, skinny legs.
Golden silk orb-weavers exhibit sexual dimorphism, meaning that males and females have different physical characteristics. The females are typically much larger than the males, and are black in color with vibrant yellow or white spots all over their bodies. The males are often just brown all over.
Golden silk orb-weavers are known by the scientific name Nephila or Trichonephila. They live in tropical regions throughout Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas. Females can have a body length of up to 2 inches, making them some of the largest non-tarantula spiders in North America. Males, on the other hand, are typically much smaller than females. They can be as small as one-quarter the size of the females and 1/70th the body mass.
While golden silk orb weavers are scary to look at, they’re actually pretty cool animals. They build some of the strongest webs of any spider in the world. Some people have suggested that it might actually make a great material for textiles. I’ve actually seen someone pull a golden silk orb-weaver around by its silk thread like a dog on a leash, although that might not be the most animal-friendly activity. They can also adjust the color of their silk to match the sunlight conditions, making their webs more invisible to unsuspecting prey. Pretty cool.
Golden silk orb weavers are pretty much harmless to humans. While their venom is strong enough to kill the flies and beetles that end up in their asymmetrical circular webs, to a human, it will probably just result in slight redness of the skin. Additionally, golden silk orb weavers aren’t aggressive, and will probably only bite you if you provoke them.
Hawaiian Garden Spider
The Hawaiian garden spider lives pretty much exclusively on islands in the Pacific Ocean. Places where you might find them include Hawaii, Taiwan, Australia, New Caledonia, New Guinea, and Indonesia. The scientific name for the Hawaiian garden spider is Argiope appensa.
The Hawaiian garden spider can have a body length of up to 2.5 inches. Their bodies are covered in a similar pattern to the female golden silk orb-weaver with black bodies covered in yellow and white spots. However, the Hawaiian garden spider has a body shaped like a papal hat rather than a cylinder.
Hawaiian garden spiders also weave incredibly strong webs and do so by creating a zig-zag design to catch even larger insects. These spiders also like to make their homes in banana trees and are thus often referred to as banana spiders.
Although just as big and scary as golden silk orb weavers, Hawaiian garden spiders are harmless to humans. In fact, if you see one spinning a web in your garden, it’s a good thing. They prey upon many insects that eat plants.
Alright, so this one is kind of a joke. No one really refers to the goblin spider as a banana spider. However, the name of one goblin spider genus is, in fact, Bannana. These spiders don’t actually live in banana trees, but rather in leaf litter in high rainforests in China. They’re tiny, typically measuring from 1 to 3 millimeters in size. They’re so small that it’s extremely difficult to even spot one.
As you can imagine, goblin spiders are not dangerous to humans whatsoever. While scientists are not sure whether or not goblin spiders have venom at all, it’s likely that their minuscule jaws would not be able to break human skin even if they did.
While this article has covered some pretty terrifying spiders, it’s important to remember that spiders are not out to get you. Spider bites come as a result of spiders trying to defend themselves. Like all wild animals, it’s important to be aware of them and keep your distance. Spiders are living creatures just like you and I, and it’s important to protect them and the important functions they serve in ecosystems.