Spiders in Italy: breathe, there are no eight-legged friends that you need to worry about :)
Well having already written about snakes in Italy - which many of you seem to have liked if only because it has put your minds at ease - seeing these last Sunday when my family and I were out for a walk in one of Maremma's hill towns also prompted me to put pen to paper!
Want to know how to say "spiders" in Italian? Well, in the singular, a spider is "un ragno", the spider is "il ragno", and the spiders is "i ragni".
Are there indigenous poisonous spiders in Italy? Yes, but only two. Neither of which are considered to be life threatening. And I have never seen either in well over a decade of living in Tuscany.
The "Malmignatta" - the Mediterranean Black Widow spider with the long name of (Latrodectus tredecimguttatus) lives in low shrub Mediterranean macchia, grassland, barren rocky terrain, and between rocks and in crevices in walls.
Note. It is very rare to find it near country houses, so don't worry about your villa.
It is black with thirteen red - although they can be orange or yellow - spots on the top of its abdomen.
Only the female spiders bite is dangerous and although her venom causes severe reactions, fatality is very, very rare. Those most in danger from its bites are children because their body size is insufficient to take the quantity of venom it injects, and adults weakened by pre-existing illnesses or age.
In any event, she isn't an especially aggressive spider, rarely biting humans unless she is frightened, and even then does not always inject her venom, biting dry.
She - and he, of course, but she has a tendency to eat him! - lives in central and southern Italy, Puglia, and the island of Sardinia.
My humble advice: if you happen to spot a spotty spider, don't hang around to count it's spots!
The second venomous spider in Italy is the violin spider, or Mediterranean recluse spider, "Ragno violino", which lives throughout the whole of Italy.
Its venom has a necrotic effect on affected tissues :(
It's distinguishing features are that often on its cephalothorax it can have a dark violin shape, and has six eyes rather than eight.
But, like spots, I wouldn't advocate getting close to count the eyes of any spider to make an identification!
It rarely uses its web for catching prey, preferring instead to go out hunting. The male, like the wolf spider below, will go out on the prowl at night looking for a mate.
But it isn't an aggressive spider, preferring to move away if disturbed. The only real risk is that it has been known to burrow between bed sheets or clothes and defend itself by biting when subsequently intruded upon.
Having said all of that, no one I know has ever, ever, since I have lived here in Italy, told me to check my sheets, or even told me about the spider. So don't fret!
This autumn, Roberta, who lives on the borders of Maremma, kindly got in touch to tell me about her husband's experience with a Brown Recluse spider. So now I can't say that no one has ever warned me about it!
"I've been reading your guide to the Maremma for a while now and I love it. Then, by coincidence, I came across your article on snakes, while Googling for the enormous Tarantula Wolf Spider that had just walked across our bathroom floor here on the borders of Maremma.
In the article, I noticed your comments on the Brown Recluse and felt I had to tell you that, although rare, they do occasionally make appearances. And if they’re stressed, they can bite, as we found out last year, when my husband disturbed one that had secluded itself in a pair of his folded trousers, in the wardrobe.
The resulting bite wasn't funny. The infection spread all down my husband's leg and then up into his groin. He had to take a very strong antibiotic that subsequently caused nearly as much damage to his system as the original bite.
The upside to the story is that we got excellent (free) care at the imposing and super-modern Siena hospital, where we were ushered in ahead of other patients, and a Professor of Entomology at Siena University was called for a second opinion, even though it was Sunday morning.
By the way, another spider we see a lot, which looks poisonous, but isn't, is the beautiful St Andrew's Cross Spider.
Thanks for all the wonderful information you provide!
Although the European tarantula wolf spider in Italy - the Lycosa tarantula - is a large spider (the females have bodies about 3 cm long, and the males nearly 2 cm long) and has tarantula in its name, isn't one of the huge, hairy, and scary tarantula spiders that you will be thinking of. Those come from the Theraphosidae family of spiders, whereas Mr Wolf Spider (I'm going to have to write it like that to stop my skin crawling!) comes from the Lycosidae family.
It originally got its name from the town where it mainly lives, Taranto.
OK, I guess you might not care that much about it's scientific classification if you come across one, so I am going to try and put your mind at rest about that possibility whilst you are on holiday in Italy, and in my part of the world, Tuscany.
Firstly, thankfully, I have never seen one, nor do I know of anyone - local Italian, or otherwise - who has.
And, although it is a species that may be found in the whole of southern Europe, it is mainly found in the Apuglia region of Italy. So, if you are heading to Rome and, or Tuscany, it is very unlikely that you will ever, consciously or not, be near one.
Especially as this spider is a scaredy-cat and flees at the sight of large animals. Their good eyesight will see you, long before you have noticed them, and they will be long gone in a flash.
And they live underground in burrows: you aren't going to see one in the corner of your apartment bedroom. The females live in their burrows their whole lives, only ever coming out at night to catch prey if something suitable hasn't walked past its burrow entrance in a while. The males are a little more adventurous, as they also go out at night to look for mates. But hey, given that the females are only out then, what else are they meant to do?!
Joking aside, you don't need to worry about wolf spiders in Italy.
Last word, the venom of Mr Wolf Spider - like most of the other "tarantulas" around the world - is is virtually harmless - certainly not rated as toxic to humans - and the bite is no more painful than that of a wasp.
The rest of the spiders in Italy - particularly those native to my neck of the woods, southern Tuscany - are your everyday, common, normal sized, garden and house kind, that aren't going to be of any particular bother and look like this.
Why can't you find a spider when you want one?! I went hunting for spiders in our garden to take some photographs for this page and couldn't find even one! Webs, yes. Spiders at home, no! I had to resort on the advice of my young daughter - she seems to know where they live - to lifting the lid of our compost bin. Where I found this one.
I guess that the legs that I can just see to the left of the spider belong to another one, but to be honest, even my research for this web site doesn't extend to me getting inside a compost bin to check things out!
About bites. I have, probably, been bitten once or twice by a spider whilst living in Italy. And so has everyone I know, including my family. I say probably, because it is difficult to tell a spider bite from a mosquito bite. The only tell tell sign is if the multiple bites are in a line or not, but even that is arguable. In any event, the swellings are generally the same and come and go likewise.
And then a couple of days after I finished wriring this page, Sophia spotted this one dangling upside down in our hedge. He is tiny; only about a centimetre and a half in length, including his legs.
I hope that I have helped to take some of any potential angst you, or your fellow travellers, may have about holidaying in Italy. We aren't famous for our ferocious eight-legged critters in Maremma. Our food, wine and hospitality, without a doubt yes. But hairy spiders, no.
And, as an additional comfort, our spiders would rather not meet you at all! They will know you are coming close - whether they have good eye-sight or not - long before you do, and, unless you are deliberately looking for them, you are so very unlikely to be considered a sufficient threat to provoke anything but a scatter and hide response.
For a bit of fun - although my daughter was still a bit nervous about standing so close to these - why not visit the hill towns of Roccatederighi or Sassetta in Maremma in the summer for some stupendous spider photo opportunities like these.
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