9 Spiders That Eat Snakes

Written by Gabrielle Nicole
Published: March 31, 2022
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Ophiophagy, or “snake eating” is common in the animal world, with mammals, birds, lizards and even other snakes engaging in the dietary practice. But did you know that many species of spiders count themselves among the creatures with snakes on the menu? It turns out that spiders around the world are capable of capturing and devouring snakes that are many times their size. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Arachnology shows that there are at least 40 species of spiders from 11 families that have an appetite for serpents. 

The study found that 90 different species of snakes were sometimes fare for the feasting arachnids. Snakes of the families Colubridae and Elapidae, such as brown snakes, garter snakes, kingsnakes, rat snakes, and water snakes, made up the majority of the victims. We’ll narrow our focus to 9 Spiders that eat snakes. Read on to find out how they secure a serpentine meal.

Spiders Species that Eat Snakes 

Female black widow spider on branch
Most snake-eating spiders come from Australia and the United States, with the widow family being the most prolific

Most spiders that eat snakes come from Australia and the United States but they actually span every continent except for Antarctica. The most prolific snake-killing arachnids come from the Theridiidae family of spiders. Theridiids, also known as tangle-web spiders, cobweb spiders, or comb-footed spiders use strong tangle webs to capture prey. Species of the Latrodectus genus are known as widow spiders.  They’re equipped with a vertebrate-specific toxin called alpha-latrotoxin. Half of the cases in the Journal of Arachnology study were spiders of this genus.

Tarantulas of the family Theraphosidae came in second, accounting for 10% of the instances of snake predation in the study. Large orb-weaving spiders of the Araneidae/Nephilidae family were the third most common, making up 8.5% of cases. Widows and orb-weavers cast intricate webs to do the work of capturing their oversized prey but tarantulas take a different approach. These spiders stalk snakes on the ground and then pounce at the right moment, holding on tightly to the thrashing snakes until their venom subdues them.

1. Australian redback (Latrodectus hasselti)

Weakest animals black widow spider
The widow spiders capture their serpentine prey in chaotic-looking, but highly organized and effective webs

Also known as the Australian black widow, the Australian redback spider is a highly venomous and skilled snake hunter. These spiders live in Australia, southeast Asia and New Zealand. Females are less than a half-inch long but are able to capture young eastern brown snakes, one of the most venomous snakes in the world. This Australian arachnid designs a crisscrossing, chaotic-looking, and sticky web to catch its unsuspecting victim.

The webs may seem random, but they place the threads strategically for expert entrapment. Once the snake is ensnared in silk, they rush to inject their deadly venom. The venom actually initiates the process of digesting the snake’s body and the spider will suck out the slew of softened snake meat. The snake presents a large meal for such a relatively small predator, so the spider may need days or even weeks to finish consuming its catch.

2. African button spider (Latrodectus indistinctus)

Another theridiid found in Namibia and South Africa, this spider is equipped with alpha-latrotoxin like others of its genus. These spiders live in tangled bushes, uncut grass, tall vegetation in dry places, agricultural zones and forests. Females are larger than males, like all spiders in the Latrodectus genus. Females are generally 7 to 16 millimeters, while males are 2.5 to 5 millimeters. These are black spiders that often have short red stripes radiating upward from the tip of their abdomen.

When a snake is snared in its web and bitten, the African button spider wraps it in a sticky silk mass and bites it several more times, injecting potent venom. The next step is to raise the snake up off the ground, between 10 and 120 centimeters above the floor. This raising may take several hours. The overall capture process is similar in all species of this spider family.

3. Israeli widow (Latrodectus revivensis)

Saharan sand viper in sand
Snakes like the sand viper are ensnared and then injected with potent alpha-latrotoxin containing venom

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The Israeli widow spider, also known as the desert widow, is another alpha-latrotoxin-toting theridiid. It captures its serpentine prey in complex webs. The web structure features several mechanisms designed for effective capture. Webs contain sections that reach the ground as well as higher upper canopies with separate spots for nesting and capture. They often form them in sparse bushes and brush.

These function as prey capture complexes, predator deterrents, for temperature regulation, and even reproduction. The silk contains pheromones to alert males to the females’ presence. Females of this species are typically 9 to 19 millimeters long and males are 3 to 7 millimeters. Females are normally dark brown and males are brown with a patterned abdomen. These spiders eat snakes when the moment is right. This widow spider was found to be feeding for several days on a dead sand viper in the Negev desert of southern Israel. 

4. Brown Widow (Latrodectus geometricus)

brown widow spider vs black widow spider
The brown widow will inject its prey with venom, then suck out the liquified snake meat

Vinicius R. Souza/Shutterstock.com

The brown widow is also known as the brown button spider, gray widow, brown black widow, house button spider, or the geometric button spider. These spiders live throughout the world but are likely native to South Africa or South America. This species is tan to dark brown to black and has black and white patterns on the sides of their abdomen, along with an orangish-yellow hourglass-shaped design on the underside.

This geometric patterning of the abdomen gives this spider its species name geometricus. They have eight long striped legs. The study showed an example of the brown widow spider feeding on a Brahminy blindsnake in a garden house in Zaachila, Oaxaca, Mexico. It also featured a young scarlet snake ensnared in the web of a brown widow, found in a private home in the U.S. state of Georgia.

5. Western Black Widow (Latrodectus hesperus)

Smallest Snakes: Lined Snake
Lined snakes count themselves among the prey of black widows

Matt Jeppson/Shutterstock.com

The western black widow, or western widow, is a species that lives in the western range of North America. Females are typically 14 to 16 millimeters long with the males being about half this length. The females are black and often display a red, yellow, or even sometimes white hourglass shape on their abdomen. Males of this species are typically tan and have a lighter striping along their abdomen. Like the others of her genus, the female Western black widow has potent neurotoxic venom to subdue her prey.

Male widows of this species prefer well-fed females, taking cues from the female’s webs. So, what do black widows eat? If a female black widow captures a snake she’ll be well-fed for a while. The Western black widow is closely related to Latrodectus variolus and was previously classified as a subspecies of Latrodectus mactans.

6. Southern Black Widow (Latrodectus mactans)

male vs female black widow spider
Large female black widows have potent venom capable of taking their oversized, snake prey, males are much smaller

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This iconic black widow species, also known as the Southern black widow or shoe-button spider is native to North America. This is a primarily southern species that lives in the Southeastern United States. The females of this species have distinctive shiny black bodies with red hourglass markings on the abdomen.

They’re also well-known for their practice of sometimes cannibalizing their male partners, eating them after mating. They also count themselves among the examples of spiders that eat snakes. Females grow to be 8 to 13 millimeters, while males are 3 to 6 millimeters in body length. Lined snakes and scarlet snakes were found to be ensnared in the webs of black widows. 

7. Northern Black Widow (Latrodectus variolus)

Unlike other black widows, northern black widows have a broken hourglass-shaped marking on their abdomens

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The Northern black widow, or northern widow is closely related to the Southern black widow. It lives in the mid-Atlantic United States like New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. The Northern black widow travels during mating season north along the coast up to Massachusetts and lives in Connecticut and even southern Canada. This species is unique for its broken hourglass-shaped marking. It has feeding habits similar to the widows already mentioned and can skillfully ensnare a snake when the time is right. Another impressive example of the many widow spiders that eat snakes.

8. Goliath Birdeater (Theraphosa blondi)

Biggest Spiders: Goliath Bird Eating Spider
The Goliath birdeater will stalk a snake on the ground, attack it, then drag it to its burrow to feast

This tarantula of the Theraphosidae family lives in South America and is the largest spider in the world by mass. The Goliath birdeater can weigh up to 6.2 ounces and has a body length up to 130 millimeters. This species derives its impressive name from an 18th-century copper engraving that depicts it eating a hummingbird. As an opportunistic predator, the goliath birdeater will eat a snake if given the chance. Once subdued, they’ll drag it back to their burrow to consume it. The digestive process is similar to that of the widow spiders, as they’ll liquefy the insides and suck the slurry out. The study found instances of this species eating a Fer-de-lance in Venezuela, as well as a young false coral snake in Brazil.

9. Golden Silk Orb-weaver (Tricho Nephila clavipes)

Snakes such as the eyelash viper have been caught in the golden webs of the golden silk orb-weaver

Max Rossa/Shutterstock.com

Also known as the golden silk spider or banana spider, the golden silk orb-weaver lives in forests and wooded areas from the southern United States to Argentina. These are red-brown and yellow spiders known for their golden silk. The females of this species are among the largest non-tarantula species in North America. Members of the Araneidae family, these spiders build large circular webs out of seven different types of silk which they attach to trees and shrubs to catch their prey. They use venom to subdue their prey after capture. In one example of snake-eating, this species captured the eyelash viper in its web in the Costa Rican rainforest.

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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer, visual artist and musician guided by a deep connection with all other beings and the landscapes we inhabit. My best friend is a four-legged, spotted, soft on the eyes, heart of gold with impossibly soft ears and a wicked sense of humor. I had a pot-bellied pig as a pet when I was a child. His name was Beethoven and he taught me animal-speak early on. I am forever grateful.

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