10 Common Brown Spiders in California

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Updated: October 14, 2022
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If you come across a spider in your closet or while weeding your tomatoes you might wonder what kind of spider it is? Black widows are a well known dangerous spider, but what about brown spiders? Are there any brown spiders in California that are poisonous? Let’s find out about 10 common brown spiders in California.

Golden Gate Bridge, The United States
Here is a list of 10 common brown spiders you might find in California.

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Are there Brown Recluse spiders in California?

Most Dangerous Spiders
The brown recluse spider is one of the most dangerous spiders in the United States. Its venom destroys the walls of blood vessels near the site of the bite, sometimes causing a large skin ulcer.

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Brown Recluse spiders are not native to California. Despite media reports and social media postings, there are no populations of Brown Recluse spiders in California. Brown recluse are very venomous and can cause large ulceric sores that take weeks to heal. There are a few other dangerous brown spiders to be aware of but most common brown spiders in California are harmless. The three dangerous ones are the Desert recluse, Chilean recluse and Brown Widow.

Desert Recluse Spider

The Desert recluse is related to the Brown recluse but its venom is not as potent. In California they are located in the deserts in the eastern part of the state. Due to their desert habitat they do not come in contact with people very often.

Chilean Recluse Spider

Although not common in California, there have been isolated populations of Chilean Recluse found in commercial buildings in the L.A. area. They are originally from South America but have made their way up to the U.S. Chilean recluse look similar to brown recluse with a violin shape on their back, but they can be more reddish brown and are larger than Brown recluse. They grow to be around 5/8 inch (15 mm).

Brown Widow Spider

brown widow spider vs black widow spider
Brown Widow and Black Widows have a similar body shape but Black widows are larger and more venomous.

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You have probably heard of Black Widow spiders but did you know there are Brown Widow spiders? Brown Widows are smaller than Black Widows with an average size of ½ -1 inch long. It is easy to tell them apart because Black Widows are a shiny jet black and Browns are tan to yellow-brown. Brown Widows are not aggressive but they will bite if they are threatened or startled. They are venomous but not nearly as harmful as Black Widows. Brown Widows are less common than Black Widows and have a limited range.

Ground Spider (Gnaphosidae)

Now on to some more common brown spiders that are not dangerous. With more than 2,000 species of ground spiders it is likely that the brown spider you see scooting across your garage floor when you pull your car in at night might be a Ground spider. They are nocturnal and don’t sit around waiting for dinner in a web. They are active hunters that use their web-spinning skills to capture prey, wrapping them in sticky webs before devouring them. Sounds scary until you find out that most are only about 8 mm-15 mm.

Sac Spider (Cheiracanthium spp.)

Yellow Sac spider (Cheiracanthium) with prey in a pine tree. These dangerous spiders are prolific at night, and have similar venom to the Brown Recluse spider, only a milder dose.
Sac spiders are less than a 1/2 inch and can be found in residential areas.

©Brett Hondow/Shutterstock.com

Smaller than ground spiders the Sac spiders (sometimes called yellow sac spiders) are around 5-10 mm (less than ½ inch). They can be light brown or have a yellow hue. They spin spherical webs, but are also active hunters. It is a spider that is found in residential areas and can hide in clothing or shoes that have not been used in a while. Always shake out clothes or shoes that may have been sitting unused before wearing.

Wolf Spider (Lycosidae)

What Do Wolf Spiders Eat?
Wolf Spiders have two big black eyes and a series of four eyes below. They have two more above as well. These spiders look scary but are only about an inch long.

©iStock.com/CathyKeifer

You can recognize wolf spiders by their two round black eyes on top of their heads. They also have six more eyes with a row of four small ones below and two medium above. Wolf spiders are a good sized spider ranging in size from 10-35 mm (.4 – 1.38 inches). One of the unique characteristics is that when the spiderlings hatch they all climb up on the mothers back and ride around for a few weeks! If you see a spider with a day care on their back it is probably a Wolf spider!

Grass Spider (Agelenidae)

Also known as “funnel-weavers” build their webs close to the ground, their unique webs are one way to tell them apart from other common brown spiders in California. Grass spiders get to be around 8-12 mm long and have eight eyes in two symmetrical rows. Their unique webs catch insects that fall into the funnel and get caught, providing dinner for the grass spider!

Orb Weaver (Araneidae)

Orb Weaver (Araneus diadematus) sitting in a spider web.
Orb Weavers build their large webs and then dangle below, hanging from a thread of silk.

Orb-weavers spin some spectacular webs, some being more than three feet in diameter! There are more than 3,000 different orb weaver species. Many of them are brightly colored with yellow, blue and red markings while others are a common brown. Although they spend lots of time constructing their webs they do not stay in their webs. They hang down on a strand of silk and wait for prey to get tangled in the web.

Cellar Spider (Pholcus phalangioides)

These long-legged spiders are sometimes called “daddy-long legs” because of the long skinny legs that seem way too long for their body. Their bodies are around 6-10 mm and their legs stretch our even further. They are commonly found in residential areas including cellars which is how they got their name. You can find cellar spiders in every county in California, they prefer the warm humid climate that the state offers. They are preyed on by Jumping spiders keeping their numbers in check.

Tarantula (Aphonopelma spp.)

pet Tarantula
Tarantulas are one of the 10 common brown spiders in California. They are also one of the largest!

©iStock.com/waldru

Although some may not consider a hand-sized spider to be “common”, tarantulas are brown and do live in California. These large furry spiders can get to be 3-4 inches long! They are sometimes called desert tarantulas or California tarantulas. Although they look intimidating they are not harmful to humans. They can bite but it feels like a bee sting and they typically do not bite humans. During the mating season, many tarantulas make their way to Northern California, especially Mount Diablo State Park, especially during late August, early September. Keep your eye out for these common brown spiders in California!

Bonus: In case you read that last clip and you really want a hand-sized furry spider for a pet, read this pet tarantula guide for everything you need to know to have a pet tarantula!

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The Featured Image

Orb Weaver (Araneus diadematus) sitting in a spider web.
Orb Weaver (Araneus diadematus) sitting in a spider web.
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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are there tarantulas in California?

Although some may not consider a hand-sized spider to be “common”, tarantulas are brown and do live in California. These large furry spiders can get to be 3-4 inches long! They are sometimes called desert tarantulas or California tarantulas.

What is the more common name for a cellar spider?

These long-legged spiders are sometimes called “daddy-long legs” because of the long skinny legs that seem way too long for their body.

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