So, you’re wondering about spiders in Sri Lanka? This guide has you covered. We’ve scoured the jungle-dressed Teardrop of India to seek out the most incredible arachnid species that are present on the island, from the far-flung reaches of the Tamil-speaking north to the tropical forests that ring around the beaches of the much-traveled south.
There’s certainly a big array of crawlies to get through. You’ve got bijou house spiders that can’t cause any harm to humans at one end of the spectrum. But they’re balanced out by gnarly, face-sized tarantulas that have bites that some scientists think could even kill a human. AKA, spiders to avoid!
The good news is that there’s nowhere near the same number of deadly spiders in Sri Lanka as there are deadly snakes in Sri Lanka. Nope, the vast majority these eight-legged beasts aren’t anything to be scared of, although there might just be one or two to keep your eye out for as you hop between the rolling surf breaks and the cloud-haloed tea fields, the elephant-trodden plains and the wild mountain terrain inland. Let’s take a look…
The jumping spider isn’t just one spider but a whole family of them. In fact, they count more species of spider than just about any other genus on the globe – a whopping 13% of the total species on planet Earth, no less. What’s more, there’s a bunch of them residing in Sri Lanka and recent studies have discovered even more sub-species of jumpers to add to the list that you might encounter while traveling the Teardrop of India.
The trademark look of a jumping spider isn’t one that you will forget in a hurry. These guys have a row of big, bug-like eyes that ring a protrusion on the head. They look a touch more like a WWII bunker ready to strike than an arachnid! Follow that up with beefy, hairy legs that alternate brown and black colorings and two hidden fangs that tuck under the mouth area.
Jumping spiders are big predators. They have expert vision that lets them hop from branch to branch in heavily jungled parts of the island, like the Knuckles Mountains and along the forests that brush the Central Highlands, seeking out smaller insects and sometimes even much bigger insects like grasshoppers and crickets.
Another thing that makes these critters stand out is the strange and often elaborate courtship displays that happen prior to mating. The males posses colorful feather-like hairs that they deploy in odd dance rituals to impress would-be mates, using gyration and back and forth movements to lure in lovers.
Asian hermit spider
Just as you might expect, the Asian hermit spider is a regular sight across the whole continent. It has populations in the Philippines, in Thailand, in India, and in Sri Lanka – pretty much anywhere with the humid and tropical forests that are its favored habitat.
They’re hard to miss, because they can measure a whole palm’s width from side to side and stretch out as long as your fingers from tail to head. That makes them one of the larger arachnid species here, though Sri Lanka’s tarantulas (more on those below) are sure to dwarf them. When it comes to coloring, Asian hermit spiders have jet-black legs and body that’s picked out in goldish hues at the joints and along the main thorax.
This species is known for spinning pretty hefty webs. They’re often found in both forests and urban environments. Although it’s thought that they do posses a relatively strong venom, they aren’t known to be aggressive towards humans and there are no documented cases of fatal encounters yet in the record books.
Common red house spider
One of the spiders you’re likely to recognize in Sri Lanka is the common red house spider. The clue’s in the name – they’re pretty common. In fact, these guys can be found as far afield as the United States of America, in the Aloha State of Hawaii, and even in the balmy reaches of Australia. They’re also everywhere in the Teardrop of India.
The female of the species is almost always bigger than the male. They can be spotted because of their brownish-red coloring that extends all over the body and right down to the ends of the legs, but usually gets darker on the larger thorax.
As a habitat, these crawlies tend to choose the shady parts of homes – hence the “house spider” – and are often found in cupboards, shoe boxes, and even unused luggage (check your bags before you go to the airport, folks!).
Usually, red house spiders dine on beetles and lava flies. They do have a venomous bite, but it’s not considered to be particularly dangerous, although some instances of swelling and nausea have been recorded in human victims.
Ornate tiger spider
The ornate tiger spider isn’t to be messed with. Also known as the fringed ornamental spider or Poecilotheria ornatai, it’s actually up there with the most dangerous spiders on the planet, and unquestionably reigns as the most dangerous spider in Sri Lanka.
The thing is, not too much is known about its bite, but scientists who’ve studied some owners of the ornamental that have been bitten have noted that it carries a venom with the potential to cause muscle cramps, neurological effects, and extreme pain at the site of contact. That’s not something you want to have to deal with when you’re supposed to be chilling on the beaches of Hikkaduwa!
Just as the name implies, you certainly can’t miss an ornate tiger spider. They’re…well…ornate! Body sizea in fully grown males can top 10 inches from end to end, centered on a huge thorax that’s patterned with ochre and yellow stripes that mimic that of its namesake big cat. Also keep an eye out for the overly hairy limbs and the purplish hue on the frontal hairs.
Ornate tiger spiders mainly reside in the woodland areas of Sri Lanka, up in the forested reaches of the Central Highlands, the Knuckles Mountains, and even in the humid woods closer to the coastline of the island. They’re actually listed as Endangered by the ICUN and are thought to be threatened mainly due to habitat destruction because of out-of-control building projects and deforestation.
Mankulam pink-banded ornamental tarantula
There are only a handful of tarantulas present in Sri Lanka, but they’re certainly the most dangerous and feared of the all the spiders on the island. The Mankulam pink-banded ornamental tarantula is the most recent addition to their ranks. It was only discovered back in 2013, when it was observed by zoologists exploring the northern part of the country.
In fact, it’s thought that this sub-species of the formidable fanged and hairy tarantula class is unique to the northern part of Sri Lanka. The only known individuals were found in and around the small town of Mankulam, about an hour’s drive south of the main Tamil-speaking regional capital of Jaffna.
The creature closely resembles other members of the same species. It’s big – measuring up to 20cm from end to end. It’s got hair-sprouting legs. And it’s got the patterned body, which displays vibrant yellowish lines and concentric circles that filter out into greyish rings on the sides.
Not much is known about the venom of the Mankulam pink-banded ornamental tarantula. However, it’s safe to assume that, like other members of the genus, they posses some sort of powerful poison that can lead to extreme pain and other neurological effects in humans. Or, at least, it’s safer to assume that than be the first person to get close enough to test it out!
Spiders in Sri Lanka – a conclusion
There are quite a few spiders in Sri Lanka. But what exactly did you expect of an island that’s dressed from head to toe in forests, scarred by high mountains, and famed around the globe for its booming biodiversity? The good news is that most spiders in Sri Lanka aren’t deadly (sadly, the same can’t be said for the country’s snakes!). Most are either totally harmless or have only weak venom that rarely causes complications in humans. There are some to watch out for, though, most notably the big tarantula species that live in the humid woodlands and forests.
What’s the most dangerous spider in Sri Lanka?
That honor has to go to the formidably named ornate tiger spider. Technically a sub species of the infamous tarantula, these guys are big and imposing. They also carry a venom that’s thought to have the power to cause intense pain in human victims and even neurological complications such as heart palpitations. You can’t miss them, though – they measure up to 20cm across!
Are there any deadly spiders in Sri Lanka?
It’s possible that the biggest tarantula species that live in Sri Lanka could cause death in humans, but scientists don’t really know enough about their venom to say that with any certainty. The creatures you really have to watch out for here are the snakes! There are oodles and oodles of dangerous serpents that are worth being much more wary of than any arachnids named on this list.