You won’t be able to venture far into a rainforest without catching the eyes of some rainforest spiders. In fact, if you are going to the Amazon Rainforest and shining your light to spot nocturnal wildlife, the forest floor may resemble the night sky with the twinkling of stars from the undergrowth. These are of course not stars but the twinkle of tropical rainforest spider eyes.
In the Amazon Rainforest they are probably wolf spiders, but in the Australian rainforest they could be the twinkle of huntsman, also known as giant crab spiders.
If you ever wonder what to do in the Amazon Rainforest, night spotting for wildlife is a worthwhile activity as the forest comes alive with a diverse assemblage of animals unseen during the day. When on the river, you can spot fishing spiders using their eye shine. Some of these are easily confused with wolf spiders.
Read a little more about these in the Amazon Rainforest Spiders article.
Found across across nine families, the main spiders of the rainforest to fascinate Darwin were the social spiders. They can build large webs engulfing entire trees and work together to bring down prey many times their size. Social spiders are generally very small, so we are talking locusts as opposed to movie-style people eaters. In the Amazon, these spiders can easily be spotted in hammock shaped webs along tributaries of the Amazon River.
Sociality is not restricted to Amazon rainforest spiders but the most often studied is a Neotropical species named Anelosimus eximius. You can see the web of this species above. I found this spider on the Rio Tahuayo while enjoying a stay at the Tahuayo Lodge (located in Peru near the city of Iquitos).
Orb Weavers (Araneidae)
Rainforests are home to impressively sized spiders like Australian golden orb weavers. Even the most fearful tourist cannot resist a photograph of this species. The golden orb weaver reached fame recently when a photograph of a bird trapped in the strong web made headlines. The silk is so strong some pacific islanders layer webbing to make fishing nets. In Africa, a similar species was impressively milked to produce spider-silk for a unique cloth. The spider in the header image is a Nephila golden orb weaver
Despite their formidable size, they are harmless to humans, although, even seasoned experts may sometimes be taken a back when they are not watching where they are walking. I have written a blog article holding Nephila to demonstrate how non-aggressive they are.
Jumping Spiders (Salticidae)
The star players in this tropical saga are the small but charming jumping spiders. Of all the insects, the rainforests are dominated by ants, and in the spider world, jumping spiders dominate the tropics. An interesting jumping spider to watch out for in the Australian tropics is Portia, a highly intelligent species that has incredible eyesight, an ability to learn, and the intelligent hunting behaviour of a lion.
Some jumping spiders look like ants to disguise themselves as one of the aggressively armed workers (for instance Myrmarachne above). They do this to avoid being eaten by spider predators. Note they often hold their front pair of legs in the air to resemble an insect’s antennae. You can see some research on the movement of these spiders here. Spider predators can even be other jumping spiders like the impressive Portia already mentioned.
Rainforest Tarantulas (Theraphosidae)
Now we have the spiders most enthusiasts search for in the rainforests, the famed tarantulas. Depending on your point of view, they are either dinner for native groups in the Amazon Rainforest or a fascinating study species in the Australian Rainforest. These spiders feed on invertebrates or small vertebrates like frogs, mice, and lizards.
When you are searching for tarantulas in the Amazon you will need a flashlight, and then it is simply a case of going on a night walk and looking carefully to the trees or the ground. Arboreal species like the Peruvian pink toed tarantula are an easy species to spot in this way, as they will be clinging to trees and are surprisingly common. Burrowing species like the goliath tarantula can be harder to spot unless you are familiar with their habitat.
Try to look and not touch, as despite being eaten by some native groups in the Amazon, it is collectors that pose the serious threat. If you are interested in these magnificent animals, ensure you obtain specimens from reputable dealers who captively breed their spiders and have an active understanding of conservation. To observe wild rainforest spiders in South America, you can join one of our Amazon Jungle tours.
Books on Wildlife
Here is a selection of good books and guides on wildlife to help you learn more about animals and plants in their natural environment.