When it comes to spiders, most people are only interested in two things: how big is it, and how dangerous? Unfortunately, widespread fear often makes information about these creatures either sensational, or misleading. The "banana spider," for example, is a name given to two widely different spiders. For those who seriously want to know more, it's worth the effort to learn the differences.
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There are two types of banana spiders, one for each of the American continents. In North America, the banana spider (nephila clavipes) is also known as the golden silk orb-weaver, and is so named because of the color of its webs. In South America, however, the banana spider (phoneutria spp.) is also known as the Brazilian Wandering Spider, and has been credited in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most venomous spider in the world. It became known as the banana spider, meanwhile, for its tendency to seek shade in crates of bananas.
Both types of banana spiders are venomous, but their bites differ dramatically in potency. In North America, the banana spider bite can cause painful welts and blisters, but these symptoms tend to clear up within a few days. The bite of the South American banana spider, however, can prove fatal - if bitten, medical attention should be sought immediately. This spider seeks shade during the day - often in boots and clothes - and does not hesitate to attack those who disturb it.
In North America, the banana/golden silk spider is the biggest spider on the continent save for tarantulas: females can grow as big as a human hand, and their elongated, yellow-black bodies resemble a banana in both shape and color. Although the Brazilian wandering spider is about the same size (4 to 5 inches in legspan), its body is far hairier, and can be brown to yellow in color. Its most distinctive feature, however, is its prominent red chelicerae (mouthparts).
The webs of the golden silk spider are particularly renowned. They are often found stretching across trails or footpaths, often at eye-level where they shimmer in the sunlight. Its silk is prized for its strength, rivaling kevlar and steel - efforts have been made to harvest this silk on a scale usable for fashioning body armor. The Brazilian wandering spider, however, does not spin webs, but rather scurries along the ground to hunt for food, as per most hunting spiders.
The North American banana spider only spans a small portion of the United States, from North Carolina and down the coast to Texas. The South American banana spider, however, ranges throughout much of Central and South America, from Costa Rica into northern Argentina. There are, however, eight separate species of this spider who have their own smaller, defined territories. Many of those species are also quite common in densely populated urban areas.