The real house spiders of Vancouver

(and other West Coast cities)

UPDATE: The scientific names used in this post are out of date. The giant house spider is now Eratigena atrica, and the hobo spider is Eratigena agrestis. Tegenaria domestica remains the same!

Living in Vancouver, I frequently hear about a HUGE hairy spider that was trapped in the bath or lurking in the bedroom or scuttling across the kitchen floor. More often than not, it’s described as a wolf spider (family Lycosidae). I’m pretty confident that every single time, the spider being referred to is actually a member of the family Agelenidae, and in particular, the genus Tegenaria. I’m almost as certain that the species in question is Tegenaria duellica, commonly called the giant house spider or European house spider.

NOT a wolf spider. Female Tegenaria duellica (Agelenidae) Photo: Sean McCann*

Sometimes the slightly better informed giant-spider-spotter will have taken a closer look at the spider, or photographed it, then done some online research and concluded that it’s the ‘dangerous’ hobo spider, Tegenaria agrestis. 

Female hobo spider, Tegenaria agrestis. These spiders may also be found in houses on the west coast of BC, but are generally not as large as T. duellica.

There is a lot of flat-out wrong information on the internet about hobo spiders and their supposed ability to cause necrotic lesions. Some people mistakenly refer to T. agrestis as aggressive house spiders. (1) They aren’t. And, (2) agrestis means ‘of the field’. As for ‘dangerous’, arachnologists Robb Bennett and Rick Vetter

“know of no authentic Canadian report of hobo spider envenomation.”

See their paper on the misdiagnosis of spider bites in Canada for more reasons not to fear hobo spiders. Having done a bit of work with Tegenaria agrestis, both in the field (on Vancouver Island) and in the lab, I can personally confirm that they are far more likely to be running away from humans than attempting to bite them (just like other Tegenaria species).

duellica?

A charming female Tegenaria. Neither aggressive nor at all interested in human flesh.

Both hobo spiders and giant house spiders can be found living alongside humans on the west coast. They are not easy to tell apart, but Rick Vetter and Art Antonelli have prepared an excellent identification guide that will tell you at the very least if it’s NOT a hobo spider (not that there would be any cause for alarm if it was one). In a house in southern BC, that leaves you with T. duellica (larger) or T. domestica (smaller).

male T duellica palps

If it has long pointy palps like this guy, it’s NOT a hobo spider, but either T. duellica or T. domestica.

Even without the (fairly recent) hype about the ‘medically significant’ hobo spider, humans seem to generally fear and despise Tegenaria. In The World of Spidersa delightful book in which the author’s passion for his subjects fairly leaps off every page–W.S. Bristowe admitted that he had no affection for house spiders. In their defence, however, he wrote that,

“A Tegenaria cannot deliver a painful bite. Its unpopularity arises from its leg span, its rapid movements and general creepyness.”

Male Tegenaria duellica

Male Tegenaria duellica. Long-legged and disposed to ‘general creepyness’. 

The movement of these spiders is indeed disconcerting. Males are pretty much all leg, and they can run FAST. Bristowe noted that Tegenaria atrica can run a distance equivalent to 330 times her body length in 10 seconds. This means a human-length (let’s say 5’9″, or 1.75 m) Tegenaria could run the 100-metre dash in 1.73 seconds. Pretty speedy.

But apart from their occasionally-startling dashing to-and-fro (mainly in the fall when males go on the prowl, abandoning their webs to search for females), house spiders in general are fabulous to have around. They are great at taking care of all manner of arthropod home-invaders and are really fun to observe.

House spiders, like this Tegenaria that set up shop just inside the door of our lab, help out by snacking on any bugs that might also enjoy living inside buildings.

If you really can’t stand having them in your home, relocate them outside, and with luck they’ll find a nearby crevice in which to build the retreat of their funnel-shaped webs. You probably won’t often catch them out on their silk sheets, as they will run and hide in their retreats at the slightest disturbance.

outside

Usually house spiders wait for prey just inside their tube-like silk retreat. We enjoy attempting to entice this Tegenaria (who lives just outside our lab) to come out and say hi by dropping small insects onto her sheet web. The speed with which she can dart out and snag prey is quite stunning!

If you’re still not convinced that house spiders are good neighbours rather than enemies, you could always try Bristowe’s method for curing fear of Tegenaria: eat one**.

*Sean McCann, a house spider enthusiast, provided all the photographs for this post. He’d like it to be noted that in addition to being incredibly fast, house spiders also *sound* creepy (if you’re lying on the floor and one runs past your head).

**It didn’t actually end up curing his fear of house spiders, but he did win a lot of money as a result.

40 thoughts on “The real house spiders of Vancouver

  1. Great blog Catherine. When I was a kid in northern Sweden, I used to keep Tegenaria spiders (presumably mostly domestica although my recollection is that they were rather large at times) in jars in the closet of my bedroom. My very patient mother accepted this. I would capture them in the basement of our apartment building, which had a sizeable population. Noone was ever bitten to my knowledge. About 10 years ago, Robb Bennett confirmed that many (in fact all of the ones we had supplied for him to ID) of the Tegenaria in my house here in Prince George are hobo spiders. The worst that has ever happened was when my wife was too hot one summer and decided to sleep on a mattress downstairs – one ran over her face, so that was the end of sleeping there. They are constant companions, and when we find one we normally simply catch them and let them out – they can easily be manouvered into a glass jar unless they are in their web. Incidentally, Robb picks them up with bare hands (I am not that brave), and even with that rather intrusive treatment, they don’t bite!

    • Thanks so much for the comment! I didn’t know hobo spiders were in Prince George (that paper about their distribution is more focused on the US and only Southern BC). I too am not as brave as Robb when it comes to handling Tegenaria because they are just so fast! The jar method does work great though – if you put it directly in front of them and lightly tickle their last pair of legs they’ll run straight into it.

      • I just found and photographed with out a doubt the biggest spider ive ever seen in canada. Not the best pics, she was quick too boogey down my drain! Any chance some one could ID it for me if I send the pics?

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    • Good question – I am not sure! In the lab, we would feed them several large blow flies each week and that would keep them in pretty good condition, I think.

  5. Great post.! I live in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island and I currently have a Hobo spider living in his cozy funnel web in my basement, its been there for months and months, once in a while he’ll peek out , but is pretty darn timid and will run away back home if I get too close. I think Hobos get a bad rap all around, everyone wants me to “squish that thing” but I refuse….Ive since named him ‘George’. 🙂 part of me really enjoys being that “one weird friend” that actually likes spiders.

  6. Great read :D. “My hobo” lives just under the still unfinished bathroom doorframe providing great entertainment …. during…. “long sessions” ;).
    His name is Buddy and has been with us for yrs…. Or sent his friend to move in… That’s where I wonder. I have Buddy there 3-5 months at a time, disappear for a while (I think it was winter when he was gone) then back again. I have just noticed him around mid-May again.
    I’m guessing our bathroom entrance just became a retreat for Buddy and his kin :)… Or could it still be him?

    • Depends on whether “Buddy” is male or female! But probably not the same spider year after year. Males will abandon their webs to look for females and then likely die soon after mating. Females could be overwintering in their retreats and just not be active for a few months. If It’s a great website (sounds like it!) a new spider may take it over each year. Thanks for commenting, and enjoy your great bathroom entertainment!

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  8. I have been seeing a lot of these in my house. The first one was in the kitchen sink and was huge, the rest were not as big and all on the floor running across the dining room. I can’t seem to figure out where they are coming from or how they keep getting in. I’ve been forced to get over my fear of them and we always catch them and place them outside in a wooded area. As harmless as they are I would love to stop any more of them from coming in and scaring the s$#^ out of me.

  9. What does it mean when one of these giant spiders runs right at you, despite stomping on the floor and other such attempts to shoo it in another direction? I’ve had this happen a couple times now. They purposely run across the living room carpet in full view, right to me!

    • They are trying to get away, but they are pretty much blind, so it’s most likely an accident that they are running toward you! If you gently brush their back legs with a paintbrush or pipecleaner they will run forward. If they freak you out I recommend the glass & card technique – put a glass or jar over top, slide a stiff card underneath, and take outside!

  10. We just spent a few days in a relatives condo in Kits. My two teenage daughters are hyper-arachnopobes and so it wasn’t good that there were many many very fine Lenore spiders along the white stucco ceiling. Very hard to spot. Fine fine legs and small bodies almost the proportions of a daddy-long legs. Any idea on what these chaps could have been?

    • Hi Norman! Those sound like cellar spiders (Pholcus phalangiodes). They are very common in homes in the lower mainland. Totally harmless, and they like to eat other spiders!

  11. Sounds like many spiders are “friendly”… Well, at least now I have the courage to sleep in my bed again… I was just reading in bed today when I noticed a black spider beside me, and it was coming towards me. It scared the living hell out of me so I squished it. (…) Now I feel kind of bad.

  12. . I keep seeing these very small red spiders everywhere. I don’t think they are the little mites because they’re too big and to fast. I put my hand down on my car comma and saw one running towards my hand, and then I picked my hand up and it stopped, but when I put my hand back down and started running for my hand again! It looked hungry! Lol! They are approx one mm across.

  13. I live in surrey bc
    This morning i caught a tiny almost a floursent green,but upon closer look its more shiny gold,its about the sizr of a tick.
    Any ideas?

  14. I just caught and relocated the largest spider I’d ever seen, aside from huntsmans at the aquarium. I didn’t get too close a look at it in good light but hoped I could find what it was. Thanks for such a lovely post which satisfied my ID-ing curiosity, and for this blog in general which indulges my fascination with (but very small knowledge of) spiders!

  15. Our first floor apartment is awash with smaller spiders which creep me out enough. Now with the days getting darker and cooler the big guys have arrived. Tonight a huge spider slowly sauntered across our living room floor. They always take the same route?
    As for killing it, of course I did. The only way I would be persuaded to let these live is if they ganged up on the mouse we have. The one who is clever enough to avoid traps. I speculate it would take six of these spiders to take down one mouse.
    I went to bed and couldn’t sleep, again.

    • It sounds like you have a female giant house spider somewhere in your apartment, and the big spiders you see taking the same route every night are males that are attracted to her web, making a beeline for her. They are definitely not interested in biting you, or your mice!

  16. Hello, I was trying to find out more info on the habits of the Giant European House Spider as one has taken up residence right outside my kitchen window. I first noticed it in early August and it now has a very large abdomen (end of October) so I am assuming it is female but its habits are interesting. It comes to the window web–a flat web–at night and leaves in the morning. It may stay away a couple of days and then come back again. When there was a wind storm and its web was destroyed, it came back to the same place and built a new one. We went on holiday and when we came back, the web was gone and we didn’t see the spider for 6 days so we thought it had gone but it came back! and built a new web. It is fascinating to watch this activity outside my kitchen window. Why would it keep coming back to the same spot and keep rebuilding the web and leave in the morning and come back at night? I find it so interesting–it has become my “pet”. Any information about this spider’s interesting lifestyle would be great. Thanks

  17. last summer we bought a new trailer in Texas, but the catch is there were webs all over the corner were we bought it. The next morning there were spiky yellow eggs any ideas on what they are.

  18. I put my shoes on today about 5 or 6 hours ago and felt a sing or it felt like I was stepping on a pin, so I took my shoe off and out ran a spider, I panicked and killed it . Im very anxious to know what type of spider this could ? I dont think it was a back widow. I live in mission bc

    • Do you have a photo of the spider? If it wasn’t shiny and black, it probably wasn’t a widow, and if it wasn’t a widow, there are no other spiders in BC that can cause serious harm (beyond pain similar to a bee or wasp sting, barring an allergic reaction). Please do go to a doctor if you have any symptoms beyond minor pain and swelling though!

  19. Thankful for all this great information as we have many large spiders in and around our house. I worry as my dogs do chase them, we also keep finding them alive and happy in the dog water bowl which is a recipe for disaster. I have heard horse chestnuts may deter them from entering a space? Also, if they are forced into biting (aka getting eaten by a dog) what damage can the hobo and/or the house spiders cause?

  20. Hi I keep getting bite by what I think are spiders, they are super tiny. I have seen lots of tegenarias in my house, my son likes to catch them, put them in a jar and watch them. He lets them go outside after awhile. Anyways to my question, will the babies bite you? I have seen itty bitty spiders and assumed they are babies. I have found them crawling on me and now I have bites all over my body. I have cats so I thought fleas bites, I work at a hotel so could be bed bugs and I am aware of field fleas also. My question is do the babies bite?

    • Hi Vicki,

      No, the babies are not capable of biting. It is far more likely that you are getting bitten by fleas, mites, or bedbugs (which have to feed on human blood) rather than spiders, which have no reason to bite humans (they do not feed on blood).

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