Identifying spiders

If you find a spider, identification should begin with careful observation of the live spider. Its surroundings, behaviour and features are all important. In many cases, the spider must be caught (without risking a bite) to be examined closely enough to answer the questions. If the spider has been killed, identifications will be possible but difficult.

Ask our experts if you're unsure.

Useful identifications need to be in precise language. Words like ‘big’, ‘hairy’ and ‘long’ are meaningless unless compared to a familiar object. Many spiders are big, just as many spiders will ‘rear-up’ if sufficiently provoked. Is it black? Or is it a very dark brown? It jumps! Did it jump? Or did it merely strike and tumble off the table? Observe carefully, and be precise.

Useful observations:

  • Where you found the spider
  • If on a web, what was the web like and where was it built?
  • If not on a web, was it in a hole or roaming, and where?
  • Proportion of head to body and/or legs
  • Distinguishing or unusual features
  • Behaviour, for example, how it moved

Be sure to use only what you have seen, try not to make judgements about points that are vague or unclear, and do not guess. If, for example, the question is whether the spider is entirely black do not overlook any markings on it.

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