Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Spiders in Belgium

WARNING: This post contains pictures of spiders. If you have a spider fetish, consider it Not Safe For Work.

Belgium is home to about 700 different species of spider, and hatching season is just around the corner. To help me get used to the idea of eight-legged monsters crawling up my bed, I've done some research, effectively exposing myself to more facts and photos than I would normally have thought wise.

The result is a short, tasty selection of arachnids you might encounter in Belgium. Not every single species is covered here, but it should be sufficient to keep you awake at night.

This post was written with equal parts disgust, fear, and fascination.

Daddy long-legs

This name can refer to two different families of arachnids, the Pholcidae and the Opiliones (harvestmen). Most people will be familiar with these creatures, as they are common all around the world. They are not dangerous to humans, but that doesn't mean I have to like them. They have names like "house spider" and "cellar spider", which tells me more than I want to know. If I find a reference to a "hoodie spider" being native to Belgium, I'll seriously consider moving to Azerbaijan.

Cross spider

I don't care if the European Arachnological Association made you Spider of the Year 2010. I still think you're creepy.

The European garden spider (Araneus diadematus), or cross spider (from the distinct markings on its back), is one of the most common orb-weaver spiders in Europe and North America. It is the largest and scariest spider to be found in Norway, but here in Belgium it's just another monster among monsters. They can only grow up to 20 mm in length, according to people who obviously haven't been in my garden.

Domestic house spider

"Domestic", as if it were some cuddly pet. If you keep this thing as a pet, don't expect me to come over for tea any time soon. I've had a few encounters with Tegenaria domestica here in Belgium, and neither I nor the spider was very amused. Their venom is not dangerous to humans, but their bite can be painful. Let's hope I never get to confirm that.

Yes, I know very well that the spider is more scared of me than I am of it. But you know what? Some animals attack only when scared. I'm not sticking around to find out which ones they are.

Cheiracanthium punctorium

One of several specias known as the yellow sac spider, this species can be found from Central Europe to Central Asia. It lives in tall grass and defends its egg sac aggressively. Its bite is compared to that of a wasp, or slightly more serious than that of a wasp. Some people are affected by nausea after such a bite, but serious symptoms are rare. In any case, this is one spider you should keep clear of.

Atypus piceus

This little bastard is known in Dutch as kalkmijnspin (limestone mine spider). It belongs to the Atypidae family, also known as atypical tarantulas. These grow to about 10-15 mm in length and can be found in southern Limburg, where they live like hermits, digging long tunnels decorated with webs and bug corpses.

Diving bell spider

Female (left) and male
Argyroneta aquatica.
The diving bell spider, Argyroneta aquatica, is the only species of spider known to live entirely under water. It is found in northern and central Europe and northern Asia. They build underwater diving bell webs which they fill with air and use for digesting prey, mating, and raising offspring. They only briefly leave the water to replenish the air in their diving bell webs. However, in well-oxygenated water this is not necessary and the spider can, in theory, spend its entire life underwater.

You're not very likely to encounter one of these, but if you do, you would be well advised not to provoke it, as its bite can be very painful.

Zebra spider

Known as huiszebraspin (house zebra spider) in Dutch, Salticus scenicus is a jumping spider, which means that it doesn't build a web, preferring to roam around houses and pounce unexpecting prey whenever it gets the chance. They grow to around 5-7 mm, which is just small enough to be outside my hate list. Also, they're kind of pretty.

Ladybird spider

Eresus cinnaberinus lives in couples in little underground web tubes. The spiders grow up to 20 mm in length. They prefer sunny, dry locations and are widely distributed in Central and Southern Europe. In England, they can be found only in a "secret" half-acre patch of south-facing Dorset heathland.

Black widow

The black widow (Latrodectus mactans), native to the United States, Canada, and Mexico, is famous for the ominous red hourglass shape on the back of its black body, the females' practice of cannibalising their mates, and its deadly venom.

The first-ever sighting of a black widow in Europe was recorded near Brussels in 1967. In 1999, a container shipped from Australia spilled out a whole nest of Australian redbacks in Bree in northeastern Belgium. The latest scare arose in August 2009, when it was discovered that black widows had arrived in the port of Antwerp after hiding inside antique cars being shipped from the United States to Europe. 

Medical doctors operating in the vicinity of the Flemish coast have recently been instructed on how to recognize a bite from a black widow, and antivenom has become more available.

We are not safe.


  1. Love you spider-hater! <3

  2. I remember the fuss they made on television about the black widows. They said it would take a big effort to get rid of them, because they don't need much to survive.

    But we are safe, don't worry. At least the big fat cross spider outside our bed room keeps all the mosquitoes out :D

  3. ÆSJ :) Og, han Sander i klassen under oss trudde vi skulle sette den rett i livmorhalsen, hehe

  4. All of these spiders can be found in Norway as well? Oh my! They are beautiful! Next time I go to Norway I will be looking to see how many I can find.

  5. I know you can find the Daddy long-lengs and the Cross spider in Norway, but as for the rest, I think they're much less common in the north. As far as I can tell, there are no Black Widow spiders in Norway - fortunately.

  6. Well, after 3 months in Belgium, and finding your page after a few encounters with absolutely HUGE (a body the thickness of a pencil and outstretched to the size of a small egg!) "domestic house" spiders and wanting to know if they were a risk to our children, I'm now even LESS comforted! I hate bugs and spiders of all kinds and these things just plain scare me, even more so now that I know they can have a painful bite! If I see a black widow however, I WILL be setting fire to our rental home!

    1. I live in Belgium, always look-up and buy the Raid bug eliminator spray at the commissary and keep one at every doorway.I encountered an ex-large on when opening my back door...it took a lot of spray to take it down.

  7. I hate spiders. from what i gather, most of these arent deadly except the black widow i guess... is that right?

    1. That's right, and you're extremely unlikely to run into one of those. Which is a small comfort to arachnophobists...

  8. I've got literally hundred to thousands of small (size of one euro cent) black jumpy ones in my lawn next to the vegetable patch. What could they be? Don't look like the zebra one above!
    Whatever they are never seen them before in my native UK. Was alarmed when I saw them for the first time.
    I seem to get strange painful bumps sometimes and upon inspection sometimes I can see 2 puncture marks on them. The flesh seems to of melted around them and then turns into 2 small bloody scabs. I believe them to be spider bites and I don't seem to react to well to them. That's the only thing that I could think of for them to be....
    For the record I also hate the domestic house spider and see nothing domestic about them whatsoever! They don't stay long domesticated after I've spotted one! ;)

    1. I'm sorry to hear about your experience - sounds like a nightmare. I'm not an expert, and the spiders you describe don't sound familiar, but if you're having a bad reaction to the bites it would be wise to see a doctor about it. Better safe than sorry!

  9. Check out the situation in Ireland if you have not already: http://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/latest-news/343118/False-widow-alert-Millions-of-KILLER-spiders-on-loose-across-UK

  10. This would be less of a problem if chemicals were allowed here. The back side of my house is infested with spiders. Don't even have this problem in Texas -_-. I don't even hate spiders, but they shouldn't be allowed to populate as much as they do in civilized areas. Unfortunately the hippies would rather insects and spiders be more comfortable than people in their own homes.