Anyone who’s ever flicked through the pages of a tropical travel brochure for East Africa should know that this island nation is a lesson in all things idyllic. The beaches are talcum white; the seas are aquamarine blue. The hotels are top quality and the jungles shimmer in emerald shades just behind. But what about spiders in Mauritius?
Do the eight-legged beasts of this multi-island archipelago nation have enough venom or bite to fend off arachnophobe travelers? Are there any strange and unusual critters that fans of the tarantula should know about?
Cue this guide to the most amazing spiders in Mauritius. It will whittle down the reams of species that currently make their home on the islands to focus in on just five startling types. You’ve got great orb-weavers with brightly colored backs, web-spinning monsters, and even uber-rare jungle dwellers named for the dodo bird. Let’s take a look…
Scorpion-tailed spider (Arachnura)
Yikes, these aren’t the cuddliest critters to look at, that’s for sure. In fact, the scorpion-tailed spider has just the same appearance you’d expect after reading its name. An elongated tail that twists and gnarls to a pointed end is what made the first folks who observed it in the wild say it looked like its sting-ready compadre. However, the good news here is that these particular arachnids can’t cause any harm to humans except a pretty mild bite.
Mhmm…the stinger that gives it the disconcerting moniker isn’t a stinger at all. Instead, it’s just an extension of the lower thorax that can be curled up when the creature feels threatened. What’s more, it’s only present in 50% of the species, since male Arachnura don’t have one at all. On the contrary, the men here are pretty commonplace small spiders colored completely brownish grey. That’s it. Simple.
Scorpion-tailed spiders aren’t endemic to Mauritius. There’s actually only one small subspecies that lives on the island, the Arachnura scorpionoides. It’s known for its leaf-like back patterns that help it stay hidden in the jungle and has recently been observed across East Africa, including on the mainland in Kenya.
Spiny orb-weaver (Gasteracantha rhomboidei)
Prepare to be wowed if you happen to spot a spiny orb-weaver spider. Truth be told, they hardly look like a spider at all. Managing a whole medley of different shapes and colors, these famous eight-legged forest dwellers are among the more curious of the critters on the island of Mauritius, where there are two officially designated subspecies.
The defining features of a spiny orb-weaver are the expanded and hardened abdomen area of the female side of the species. They often display bright and bold colors like oranges, blood reds, and daffodil yellows – both in a warning to would-be predators but also as a courtship display to potential mates. Once again, male weavers aren’t as startling, with much smaller bodies and a distinct lack of zingy coloring.
Spiny orb-weavers live in leafy areas, woodlands, and jungles. They are present all over the eastern tropics of the world and even beyond, making their home as far away from the sparkling sand beaches of Mauritius as Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and Thailand. Oh, and one last thing: They do bite, but it’s widely considered to be totally harmless to humans. Phew!
Red-legged golden orb-weaver (Trichonephila inaurata)
Trichonephila inaurata is the name for a species of orb-weaving spider that lives exclusively in the confines of East Africa. It’s present on the mainland of the continent but more prevalent across the idyllic islands of the Indian Ocean: From Madagascar to Réunion, and, of course, in Mauritius to boot.
Like the spiny orb-weaver before them (see above), the red-legged version of the genus has a pretty strange and striking appearance. There’s that trademark oversized abdomen. There’s also a unique color patterning, which oscillates between bright yellows and stark black-and-white lines. These guys can also grow pretty darn big, so be prepared to jump back if you spy one out on the deck of your ocean-side villa, folks.
Red-legged golden orb-weavers are known for spinning huge webs. In fact, the web is the thing you’re likely to notice first, because it can hit a whopping 1.5 meters (yep, meters!) from top to bottom. Usually asymmetrical, the web’s threads also contain unique quinine pigments that are thought to attract native island bee species thanks to their yellowish hue. Scientists even say that the web of the red-legged golden orb-weaver can sometimes be so strong that it’s powerful enough to trap birds!
Because of their out-of-the-ordinary appearance and large size, the red-legged golden orb-weaver is a commonly kept pet spider. However, would-be owners should watch out because females are known to carry up to 200 eggs at any one time and each spider needs a 40–45-gallon tank to itself to live comfortably. That’s a whole lot of space!
Brown huntsman spider (Sparassidae)
Most people would run a mile if they happened to cross paths with a brown huntsman spider. We can hardly blame them – these guys are beefy specimens, capable of clocking up a leg span of over 30cm from end to end (that’s the same size as a school ruler just in case you’re wondering). They also look formidably similar to tarantulas, arguably the most feared arachnid of all.
Thing is, brown huntsman spiders might walk the walk, but they don’t really talk the talk. They aren’t considered excessively dangerous to humans. Something like the BFG of the spider world, they have only a mildly venomous bite that’s very rarely deployed on human targets. When it is, it’s normal to feel some pain and a bit of swelling but that’s usually the extent of it.
Brown huntsman spiders are one of the most geographically successful in the world. They live in virtually all temperate regions of the planet, from the edges of the Mediterranean all the way to the eucalyptus fortress of eastern Oz. There are also considerable numbers on the island of Mauritius, where the locals often refer to them simply as the “big spider”.
Dodo hermit spider (Nephilingis dodo)
Once upon a time, the species of hermit spider known as the Réunion hermit spider was thought to have inhabited all these islands of the Indian Ocean, from its namesake Réunion to the honeymoon-ready Seychelles. However, somewhere along the line that particular critter moved on and the dodo hermit spider became the dominant type in our very own Mauritius.
Named for their penchant for hiding away in dark, damp holes during most of the day, the hermit species of the island can grow to about 23mm across (but only 6mm for males). But that’s just one part of the moniker. The other half – the “dodo” part – was added in honor of the now-extinct ancient bird species that once inhabited Mauritius, intended as a nod to how the disappearing primeval rainforests here could lead to the same fate for this eight-legged critter.
With that in mind, we’d say it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll spot a dodo hermit spider during your travels. They are famously rare and also considerably smaller than a number of other types of hermit spider, which now live all over the globe, from tropical Africa to the jungles of South America.
The most interesting spiders in Mauritius – a conclusion
There aren’t all that many spiders in Mauritius. Or, at least, what we mean to say, is that travelers here don’t usually come across so many eight-legged beasts as they do in nearby nations, like the mainland countries of East Africa or over in Southeast Asia, for example. There are plenty of them around in the jungles and tropics here, though. They just usually stay hidden away from where visitors go.
This list focuses in on five of the most incredible. There’s a nod to the huge huntsman spider that’s often mistaken for a tarantula. It’s got info on the strange and alien-like orb weavers that can forge webs strong enough to capture birds, some say. And you’ll find some talk about one of the fast-disappearing endangered spiders of Mauritius, the aptly named dodo hermit spider.
Are there any venomous spiders in Mauritius?
There are venomous spiders in Mauritius, but the good news is that most don’t cause any serious issues to humans at all. The vast majority of known species here actually have mild bites that usually lead to nothing more than a bit of local pain and swelling.
Are there tarantulas in Mauritius?
Nope, there are no known species of tarantula in Mauritius. However, there are huntsman spiders, which are very commonly confused with tarantulas on account of their hairy legs and oversized front fangs and thorax. Don’t worry, though, huntsman spiders aren’t considered particularly dangerous to humans.
What’s the biggest spider in Mauritius?
The dubious honor of being the largest spider in Mauritius has to go to the huntsman spider. These guys can grow to over 30cm from leg tip to leg tip. But they are more bark than bite, since attacks on humans are rare and they don’t have a particularly potent venom.