In 2004 I stayed for a while at the Eastern Cape for my medical internship. Even though I had limited time I was able to photograph some of the archnids which occur in the southern parts of South Africa.
In 2017 I visited my friends from the Baboon Spider Atlas ( http://www.baboonspideratlas.co.za ) to join them on a trip through the Mpumalanga and Limpopo Provinces to photograph arachnids in the wild and in 2018 I had again some time to travel along the Garden Route in the western and part of the eastern cape. The following footage is a mixture between 13 year old material and pictures taken with modern digital equipment.
2004 I was able to document the habitat and reproduction of Harpactira guttata für the first time. An article of mine on the reproduction and life of Harpactira guttata in its natural habitat can be found in the edition of the following Arachne Magazine:
Also in larger cities ist is possible to observe arachnids. As example there are many Latrodectus geometricus around the Table Mountain.
It is possible to see many Latrodectus geometricus on a small hill near the Harbour ( Lions Head ) living mostly under small pieces of wood. In constrast to the Latrodectus geometricus i have seen so far in captivity these were much bigger. I was able to find Latrodectus geometricus all over the southern part of South Africa.
Habitat of Lactrodectus geometricus in Cape Town:
Latrodectus geometricus has a unique form of their eggsacs
I also found a Gandamameno sp. within the same habitat. These quite large spiders with a body size of almost 1,5 cm build tube shape silk retreats under stones and wood logs.
One of my favourite genus of african spiders is called Palystes. They belong to the family of the Heteropodidae and are sometimes known under the name " Rain Spider ". They have a unique way of reproduction and out of the 15 species belonging to Palystes more than 10 can be found in the Western and Eastern Cape, the Transkei and Lesotho.
The most abundant species in the Western und Eastern Cape are Palystes castaneus und Palystes superciliosus. Palystes spp. are nocturnal hunters which hide behind tree bark, stones etc. at daytime. They never build nets. Also they sometimes tend to come back to the same retreat every day after actively hunting at night.
Both Palystes castaneus and Palystes superciliosus females use dry leaves and other debris to form a large ball like eggsac which they hang within bushes or other suitable places. The eggsacs hang freely attached bya few strings of silk. Until the offspring hatches the female spider stays near or on the eggsac to repair and protect it. P. superciliosus eggsacs need around 17 days for the spiderlings to hatch and another 4 days to leave the sac( Warren, 1926 ). The small spiders stay a few more days on the eggsac and are protected by the female. It was documented that P. superciliosus can lay around 800 eggs in multipe eggsacs during its lifespan of 18-24 months.
Literarature: P.M.C. Croeser , 1996 " A revision of the African spider genus Palystes , L. Koch, 1875 "
Different eggsacs of Palystes spp. :
Spiders hatching from an eggsac:
mature Palystes sp.
Another Palystes sp. from the eastern cape near Port Elizabeth:
Video about Rainspiders in the wild
Regarding scorpions South Africa also offers a large diversity. Around cape Town it is possible to find Opistophtalmus capensis.
This picture shows a mature male:
Another Opistophtalmus capensis found under a rock near Cape Town
The " Cape Mountain Cock Roach " ( Aptera fusca ) is a large roach growing up to 4 cm bodylength. The interesting fact is that it is decribed that females guard their offspring for a while after giving birth to them. Furthermore they can make sounds when threatened. I found this species not only around Cape Town but also more west near Knysna
Female Aptera fusca:
regarding Tarantulas the most common species around Cape Town is Harpactira atra. There is a Harpactirella sp. as well but These are more difficult to find.
Habitat of Harpactira atra:
The spiders are most likely found under rocks :
Under these rocks they build silk lined excavations frm where a burrow is going deeper into the soil
Young female of Harpactira atra :
Another nice place on the road to East Lodon from Cape Town is Swellendam in the proximity of the Marloth Nature Reserve along the Langeberg Mountains, also Close are the villages of Robertson and Bonnievale .
This area is home of Harpactira sp. Robertson. Although These spiders are very easy to find and widespread they are not yet scientifically described. However, it si believed that this is Harpactira lyrata. In the original description the origin of the holotype of Harpactira lyrata is indicated as " South Africa " without any further Information
To look for tarantulas the surrounding farms provide good possibilities.The following picture shows the habitat of Harpactira spp. which live in this area:
At least 2 Harpactira spp. can be found near Swellendam. One smaller one living under stones and a larger one living under stones and in burrows.
A habitat like this is a perfect place to find baboon spiders:
The exits of the retreats below stones are almost invisible. For that reason it is necessary to flip lots of rocks to find spiders.
Burrow entrance under a stone
Burrow after removing the stone:
Harpactira sp. Robertson, found under a rock
Especially after molting they have a nice golden colour
Habitat near Robertson:
Spiderling of Harpactira sp. Robertson:
freshly molted juvenile:
The following picture shows a specimen which built the exit of its retreat next to a tuft of gras. Between the carapax and the abdomen you can see the larva of one of the natural enemies of these spiders - the larva of an Ichneumonidae.
Full video of Harpactira sp. Robertson in the wild :
In South Africa there is a rule that in Addition to a smaller Tarantula species there is always a larger species living in the same Habitat. Around Robertson and further east it is Harpactira dictator which is much bigger than Harpactira s. Robertson.
Around the town of Oudtshoorn I was able to find plenty of Harpactira dictator. Oudtshoorn is well known for ist Ostrich Industrie:
Habitat of Harpactira dictator :
Most of the spiders I found under rocks. Mature females tend to adapt empty mole holes
Here is a burrow made between two rocks :
Another burrow with a juvenile spider inside:
Specimen found at night roaming around freely :
Mature males also get really big. This one tunred up during a BBQ all by itself:
While searching for tarantulas by turning rocks of course I found others arachnids and intersting insects .
Centipedes are very abundant
Latrodectus geometricus also occurs near Swellendam
Different kinds of Scorpions can be found in this area:
A quite bizarre kind of spiders are Palpimanidae which also live under stones. These animals have a very long first pair of legs and feed mainly on other spiders. It is interesting to see the spiders reaction when threatened. It raises its first pair of legs and moves it chelizera. It seems that these small critters with a size of not more than 1 cm try to imitate the large Solifugidae sp. living in the same area.
Solifugidae sp. from the same habitat:
Right on the coast along the garden route it is possible to find another yet undescribed Harpactira sp.
Just before my visit there were big wildfires in that area and there were no really suitable places to find tarantulas. But I was lucky to finda wild dump side which are perfect places for spiders.
Here I found several individuals of this Harpactira sp:
The same Habitat is shared by Opisthacantus capensis :
Near Port Elizabeth it is possible to find Harpactira tigrina, Even though it was quite cold during my visit with temperatures of 9 degrees celcius at night and no more than 19 at day all Harpactira tigrina females I found had eggsacs or freshly emerged larvae.
Also here the easiest way was to find them near man made structures:
female with already hatched larvae in its burrow:
Typical eggsac of all harpactira spp.
Larvae of Harpactira tigrina
female of Harpactira tigrina
Half way between Cape Town and Durban the town of East London spreads along the coast. The area around East London is increasingly populated. In 2004 I found Harpactira guttata in a rather untouched habitat along the Kei River.
The Harpactira sp. Kei River which occured in the european pet trade around 2015 is Harpactira guttata and not a different Harpactira species.
Habitat Harpactira guttata
The spiders dig burrows no more than 20 cm deep:
Typically for Harpactira spp. the eggsacs remind of a hammock being attached on two sides of the burrow
Harpactira guttata female
Harpactira guttata male
In spring 2017 I joined the my friends of the Baboon Spider Atlas for a field trip to the Limpopo and Mpumalanga province.
Within the Limpopo Province we visited a mountainous area with hills up to 1200m and some chilly weather. Nevertheless some interesting Theraphosids inhabit this area.
Because the main work was to flip rocks there were plenty of other animals tobtake photos of. One exapmle is this colourful Scolopendra sp.
These milipedes were abundant in this area:
Juvenile Crotapopheltis hotamboiae
very cute companions are the Rain Frogs
Also these large Amblypygi sp. were common under or between rocks
Of course we were also able to find Scorpions. This is one of the more venomous ones :
This pretty one is Uroplectes flavoviridis
Of the different Theraphosid spiders the most widespread in north eastern South Africa is Harpactirella overdijki.
These spiders live under stones where they build silken retreats.
Habitat of Harpactirella overdijki
Silk under a ( removed ) stone
Spiderling of Harpactirella overdijki
Harpactirella overdijki in its habitat:
Just as H. overdijki there is another smaller Theraphosid species mostly under rocks, This is a Brachionopus sp.
mature Brachionopus spp.
Brachionopus sp. in its habitat:
At an altitude of 1400 mwe also found a very large and impressive mature male of Harpactira gigas:
Harpactira gigas, mature male
Also eratogyrus darlingi occurs in the Limpopo province. This specimen was as well under a rock. Further south in the Mpumalanga province I just found them in burrows.
One of the most common insects during our trip was the very colourful and large "armored ground Cricket" Acanthoplus sp.:
I also don`t want to withhold this nice Chameleon which was crossing a road at daytime:
Then I travelled further south into the Mpumalanga Province to an area with a fantastic wildlife and landscape:
Dyspholidus typus, one of the most venomous snakes of southern Africa
In contrast this African Housesnake ( Lamprophis sp. ):
Concerning spiders there was also plenty to disccover. This is Nephila senegalensis :
This specimen choose a place with a nice view. The male shares the web with the female.
large Argiope sp.
Well camouflaged Selenops sp., found under a stone:
male Selenops sp.
Theraphosid spiders were abundant. The most common was Augacephalus junodi which I found in colonies with one large burrow of a female and multiple smaller ones around within the next 30 meters.
Burrows of Augacephalus junodi
It was very difficult to tickle Augacephalus junodi out of its burrows at night. They often grabbed the bait for a second and disappeared immediately back into the burrow.
juvenile A. junodi
Augacephalus junodi im Habitat:
Besides Harpactirella overdijki and Ideothele nigrofulva , which also occur in this area , there is another species which shares the habitat with Augacephalus junodi.
Ceratogyrus darlingi doesn`t appear in colonies but anyways there are also abundant and somtimes the burrows of A. junodi and C. darlingi are very close to each other.
Burrow of Ceratogyrus darlingi
One can see here that the males in the wild are much larger than the ones raised in captivity.
Ceratogyrus darlingi in its habitat: