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Sea Spiders in South Africa: The Truth About These Creepy-Crawlies

Explore real-life ocean creatures resembling horror movie monsters, like sea spiders, found worldwide but most diverse in South Africa.

Delve into facts, myths, and common questions about these intriguing marine arthropods.

Sea Spiders in South Africa
All legs and no body (Image: Norbert Wu/Minden Pictures/FLPA)
Species: The Southern Ocean giant sea spider (Colossendeis megalonyx)
Habitat: The ocean floor around Antarctica, South America, Africa and Madagascar


Do South African Sea Spiders Bite?

One of the initial inquiries people often have about sea spiders pertains to their potential for biting or posing a threat to humans.

The response is reassuring: sea spiders are widely regarded as harmless creatures and do not possess the ability to bite.

Their mouth, or proboscis, functions as a suction mechanism rather than a biting apparatus.

Sea spiders employ their proboscis to pierce their prey and extract their bodily fluids.

Their primary prey includes small invertebrates such as worms, crustaceans, and mollusks.

Some larger sea spider species may also consume fish and even other sea spiders.

It’s important to note that sea spiders lack venom glands or fangs, and thus, they do not pose any danger to humans.

While certain species may possess small venomous claws for injecting poison into their prey, these are too minuscule and feeble to cause harm to us.

Are There Spiders In South Africa?

Although sea spiders are not considered true spiders, South Africa boasts a diverse array of authentic arachnids.

This country is home to an impressive catalog of over 3,000 spider species, spanning the gamut from minuscule arachnids measuring only a few millimeters in length to colossal ones with leg spans of up to 30 centimeters.

Among the most familiar and identifiable spider species in South Africa are the highly venomous black or brown button spiders, capable of causing severe health complications if they bite; the orb-weavers, known for their intricate silk webs designed to ensnare prey; the jumping spiders, distinguished by their exceptional vision and impressive leaping abilities, allowing them to cover several times their own body length in a single bound; and the huntsman spiders, renowned for their speed and agility as they hunt down their prey without the use of webs.

Are Sea Spiders In South Africa Capable Of Walking?

Sea spiders possess lengthy, slender legs that serve them in traversing the ocean floor or navigating through the water.

Typically, they exhibit four pairs of legs, although certain species might exhibit five or even six pairs.

These legs perform a dual role, not only facilitating movement but also functioning as respiratory organs, given their absence of lungs or gills.

Instead, sea spiders extract oxygen from the surrounding seawater through their legs and then distribute it throughout their bodies via diffusion.

Furthermore, sea spiders boast two pairs of head appendages: the chelifores, employed for capturing prey or potential mates, and the palps, responsible for sensing and sampling their environment.

In addition to these, some species possess an extra pair of appendages known as ovigers, which are utilized for self-cleaning and the nurturing of their eggs and offspring.

What Is The Size Of Sea Spiders In South Africa?

Sea spiders exhibit a wide range of sizes contingent on their species and their specific ecological niches.

The smallest of these creatures measure just a few millimeters in length and are typically found inhabiting shallow waters proximate to coral reefs and seaweed beds.

Conversely, the largest sea spiders can reach lengths of up to a meter, inhabiting the deep waters surrounding Antarctica or the Arctic regions.

In South Africa, the majority of sea spiders fall within the one to 10 centimeter range, although there are some exceptions to this norm.

Noteworthy among these species are the brown and red-legged sea spiders, distinguished by their reddish-brown legs and the capacity to grow up to 15 centimeters in length.

Additionally, the black sea spider, characterized by its black legs and dark body, can attain lengths of up to 20 centimeters.

Lastly, the colossendeis spider, with its substantial body adorned with spines, ranks among the largest, reaching sizes of up to 30 centimeters.


Sea spiders, ancient marine creatures, exist for millions of years in their own arthropod class called Pycnogonida.

They inhabit oceans worldwide, with South Africa hosting diverse species.

Harmless to humans, they eat small marine animals with their proboscis and claws.

Their long legs serve as both limbs and respiratory organs, coming in various sizes and colors, from minuscule to giant.

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