Ranging from tiny to frighteningly large, there are almost 1,000 species of arachnids in Florida. With constant warm weather and a wealth of smaller prey insects, the state is particularly conducive to a thriving community of spiders and scorpions, both native species and those that have been introduced into the ecosystem by importation. Venomous or not, it is beneficial to have a good working knowledge of the different types of spider and scorpions to avoid painful bites and stings.
Considered to be one of the more dangerous species of spider, the brown recluse has been appearing more frequently in Florida. Aptly named for its tendency to hide itself, most bites occur when the spider is disturbed. Ranging in color from tan to brown or grey and generally no bigger than a quarter, the recluse has short hair on its body and spindly legs. Two ways to identify the recluse is by a dark fiddle shape on the head and the arrangement of the eyes. Where the fiddle is not always present, the recluse’s six eyes, three groups of two, differ from other eight-eyed spiders. The venom is potentially deadly and can cause necrosis, or tissue death, around the bite. Always seek medical attention if bitten by this spider.
The Four Widows
Many people are aware of the notorious black widow with its glossy black body and red hourglass marking, but less commonly known are its three relatives: the brown, northern black and red widow. All four species of widow can be found in Florida, and range in size from .25 of an inch to 1.5 inches. The brown widow is much like the black with the same telltale red marking on its abdomen, but its coloring can range from tan, brown or gray. The northern black widow is the same glossy black, but has two or more bright red markings. The red widow is the most colorful of the four with bodies and legs that range from orange to red, with markings in black and sometimes yellow. Widow venom is a potent neurotoxin, and immediate medical attention should be sought to prevent permanent damage.
Golden Silk Orb-Weaver
Sometimes called the banana spider, non-venomous golden silk orb-weavers are less scary than they look. Found mostly in wooded areas in the panhandle and Northern Florida in summer or early fall, the golden silk is a large spider at up to 3 to 4 inches. Identified by its large yellow and brown legs and speckled cylindrical thorax and white head with black markings, this spider is almost always seen in its web, which is spun in between trees or branches and glows gold when seen through sunlight. Some can even be found with a web suspended between branches that are yards apart. Despite its imposing size, the golden silk spider is a beneficial presence in a yard because it eats smaller nuisance bugs.
There are three scorpion species in Florida, none of which inflict lethal venom. The Florida bark scorpion, or slender brown scorpion, is the largest of the three, and is dark brown with a flattened body and curled tail. Another species is the Guiana striped scorpion, which is found mostly in South Florida. Its body is mostly yellow with red markings. The most common Florida scorpion species, the Hentz striped scorpion is also the smallest and can be found all over the state, excluding the Florida Keys. Its body is mostly red-orange with lighter striped tones. Although they do not release lethal venom, their stings are painful, so it is best to be cautious when dealing with any of these three species.