The term “banana spider” can refer to two entirely different arachnids, the nephila clavipes of North America and the phoneutria of South America. The varieties can be about the same size, but they have dramatically different appearances and habitats. The former type, which spins a web known for its incredible strength, is shy and fairly harmless. The latter kind, which travels over the ground and hunts instead of making a web, is aggressive and has a potentially lethal bite.
Phoneutria also are known as bananenspinne, kammspinne and wandering spiders. Some people also call them armed spiders. Common names for N. clavipes are writing spider and golden orb weaver.
The label “banana spider” is associated with phoneutria because they sometimes hide in banana bunches. This habit has resulted in people accidentally shipping them to grocery stores in other countries. North American versions earned this name because the females have a yellow body.
The body of the South American banana spider generally falls between 0.7 and 1.9 inches (1.8 to 4.8 cm). The leg span is between 4 and 5 inches (13 to 15 cm). The female North American golden orb weaver is comparable in size. It has a body length between 1 and 2 inches (2.54 to 5.08 cm) and a leg span of up to 5 inches (15 cm), making it the largest non-tarantula arachnid in North America. The male is smaller, with a body size up to 0.5 inches (1.27 cm) and a leg span of up to 1.5 inches (3.81 cm).
A phoneutria typically has a brownish coloring, similar to a male N. clavipes. Some species have a distinctive red coloring around the jaws. The legs of a female N. clavipes have alternating brown-black and yellow-green sections, which serves as a warning to predators. The coloring sometimes causes people to get golden orb weavers confused with another common garden arachnid, the argiope.
Individuals have encountered species of phoneutria in nearly every region of South America. These arachnids are nocturnal and hide in areas such as wood piles, banana plants, dark areas of homes and within clothing. People call them “wandering” because they move across the jungle floor when active.
N. clavipes reside mostly in southeastern North America. They usually stay around bushes and flower plants in gardens, but they prefer sunny areas and like trees. It is not unusual to find them living across walkways or trails. Unlike their South American counterparts, they are much more visible and typically don’t catch people by surprise as much.
Although wandering spiders can spin silk and use it during climbing, they do not build webs. The lack of a web means they must hunt for food actively. The North American variety does make a web, which can span several feet wide. It is common to find the webs at eye level, as this is a good height for catching insects. The durability of these homes is notable, as the silk is stronger than Kevlar®.
Both varieties of banana spider feast on insects found in their environment, such as wasps, fruit flies, locusts, crickets and bees. Larger phoneutria also may eat larger prey such as lizards and mice. N. clavipes can eat these bigger meals, as well, but they generally do not get the chance, as they are much more shy, have a less potent bite and rely on their webs to catch food.
South American banana spiders can live up to two years. The North American type has a slightly shorter lifespan. They usually do not live longer than a year.
Toxicity and Danger Level
Being able to tell these two types of arachnids apart through elements such as appearance, web building, lifespan and diet is critical because of the difference in venom toxicity. The venom of N. clavipes is similar in nature to that of the black widow, but it is far less potent, making it quite harmless to humans in the majority of cases. A bite from the North American kind usually doesn’t result in much more than a welt that passes within 24 hours. Some individuals do experience a more severe allergic reaction, however, which can cause difficulty breathing and muscle cramping.
Phoneutria, whose name means “murderess,” are among the world’s most dangerous arachnids, with the 2012 Guinness Book of World Records labeling them as the most poisonous. Their venom causes potentially deadly reactions in the nervous system. Bites result in severe, immediate pain, cold sweats and irregular heartbeat. Fast medical attention is necessary when these bites occur. The aggressiveness of phoneutria makes them even more problematic, as they will bite multiple times before retreating.
With South American banana spiders having the ability to kill, getting them out of living and working areas is a must. Many people don’t bother to remove golden orb weavers because they keep the populations of pesky insects down. When someone does want to get rid of them, all he has to do is tear down the webs so they will go somewhere else.
Is a Banana Spider Poisonous?
The term “poisonous” refers to something that is toxic if ingested. Snakes, spiders, and most other animals colloquially referred to as “poisonous” are more properly termed “venomous,” referring to the fact that their toxin is injected rather than swallowed. Even when an animal is venomous, however, not every bite results in envenomation. The production of venom requires energy and time, and so animals typically use it sparingly. Phoneutria and many other spiders use their venom to immobilize prey as well as for defense. It is estimated that Phoneutria spiders only inject venom in about one-third of human bites and that approximately a third of those bites contain a low level. While more research is needed, based on current data it appears that only a small number (under 3%) of Phoneutria bites produce severe symptoms.
Can a Banana Spider Kill You?
Despite the potentially severe symptoms that can be caused by envenomation from a Phoneutria bite, there have been only a few reported deaths, mostly in children. Deaths typically occur between 2 and 6 hours after the bite and are usually due to respiratory arrest.
Do Banana Spiders Lay Eggs inside Bananas?
An urban legend (complete with a fake video of a spider emerging from a banana in dramatic fashion) claims that the tip of a banana can be infested with spider eggs or even live spiders, but this idea is incorrect. The natural process of banana flowers developing into fruit does not allow any opportunity for eggs to end up inside the banana peel, and even if it were possible a newly hatched spider would not survive being trapped inside a banana. Some types of spiders, including Heteropoda venatoria (huntsman) do lay eggs on banana leaves (and occasionally on the outside of a mature banana fruit), and many types of spiders including Phoneutria sometimes hide in banana bunches.
How Many Different Types of Spiders are Called Banana Spiders?
In addition to Nephila clavipes and Phoneutria, there are at least two other types of spiders commonly referred to as banana spiders.
Cupiennius is a genus of spiders that live in Mexico, Central America, some Caribbean islands, and northwestern South America. They are one of the spider types that sometimes hide in banana bunches and larger species are often misidentified as Phoneutria, but their venom is far less dangerous to humans. Like Phoneutria, they are hunting and fishing spiders that do not usually build webs.
Argiope appensa is a species of spider that is found in Australia, Indonesia, New Guinea, and some other Western Pacific Islands. These spiders are called Hawaiian garden spiders in Hawaii and banana spiders in Guam. Like Nephila clavipes, they are orb weavers. Their webs usually have a distinctive white zig-zag pattern in at least one section. Argiope appensa spiders are not dangerous to humans.
Are Trichonephilia clavipes and Nephila clavipes the Same Species?
Yes. In 2018, Phoneutria clavipes was one of several Nephila genus spider species that were reclassified as genus Trichonephilia.
What About Genus Bannana?
Bannana is a genus of goblin spiders. Goblin spiders have more than 1,600 different species, almost all of which are small enough that humans generally don’t notice them. Bannana goblin spiders are found only in the tropical rainforest of China’s Yunnan Province. The name “Bannana” is not related to the fruit; it is derived from the word “Xishuangbanna.” (Xishuangbanna Biosphere Reserve is located in Yunnan Province.)
What Does a Banana Spider Look Like?
Cupiennius spiders range from 0.35 to 1.6 inches (.9 to 4 cm). They are usually brown and hairy, and many species have vivid red hairs on their mouthparts (which is a major reason they are often mistaken for Phoneutria spiders, many of which are also brown and hairy with red mouthparts, although the red color is somewhat duller in Phoneutria). While both types of spiders have long, slender legs, Phoneutria spiders often have striking dark bands on the bottoms of their legs and a vertical black stripe on the tops.
Female Argiope appensa spiders look fairly similar to female Nephila clavipes spiders; they are large (2 to 2.5 inches [5.1 to 6.4 cm] long, including the legs) and have vivid yellow and black patterns. Nephila clavipes spiders, however, have a longer and more cylindrical body shape. Both species also have long legs with yellow and black bands. The males of both species, by contrast, are considerably smaller and are a dull brown color.