‘Biggest of all NZ spiders’ turns up in Gordonton

Mar 17th, 2020 | By | Category: News, Out & About

Golly gee, we were startled to turn up a spectacular critter while stacking firewood recently.

It was a banded tunnelweb, Hexathele hochstetteri, belonging to a family which according to spider experts Ray and Lyn Forster are, at least by weight, the biggest of all NZ spiders.  They are primitive, closely related to the Australian funnelwebs and rather more distantly to the American tarantulas.

Unlike some of their overseas cousins, the NZ species are thought to be only slightly venomous, although a bite still can cause localised pain and inflammation.

A rare beastie

There are spiders in this country that have a bigger leg span, but for sheer bulk, these are hard to beat.

The banded tunnelweb is reasonably common and widespread throughout the North Island, but is not often seen.

We treated our guest with the utmost care and courtesy and gently placed him or her behind the wood shed. What a darling!

Photo of biggest of all NZ spiders

What a darling!


Photo of biggest of all NZ spiders


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32 Comments to “‘Biggest of all NZ spiders’ turns up in Gordonton”

  1. Lesley says:

    This one is a good size! I’m pleased to hear you released it back to where it came from…I’ve seen one or two, but NOT this big!

  2. Crystal Mills says:

    We have found one of these guys and we have her in a clear container at the moment, she hunts like she’s outside and she hides underground,we gave her worms and slater bugs for food but we have never seen one before,we found her up by our compost bin and we searched her up and assuming she is one of these guys because of her bottom area with the multi-colouring as above in your picture….Her size is about 5-7cm without her legs added they are about 3-4cm long if stretched maybe longer. Iv’e read on other sites that there arn’t many around in N.Z. We live in Taupo, do you know of a place that keeps unusual spiders or houses them… Mum dosn’t want her back in the garden just incase we run into her again.. Is there a certain place elsewhere to put them? Any info would be good
    Thanks Crystal & Paula

  3. Garry Hibbert says:

    “Not often seen” Seriously?
    I’ve never seen a small one of these yet?! I live in Manukau, next to bush… I’m for ever squashing these little buggers!
    (nah, just kidding… I knew that comment would upset most… lol)
    But on a serious note: there are heaps of these in and around my tin sheds.
    Had one today! Got video of it attacking the stick I was trying to pick it up with…
    They really like solid rotting woody areas, they weave a silky smooth blanket for webbing, I’ve even seen some around my section, weaving webs around holes into the ground in the grass, just like a Funnel Web… looks pretty cool.
    I just pick them up and place them on the bush floor in Totara Park.

    • number8network says:

      Hi Garry, pleased for you that you have plenty of these around where you live, and that you enjoy them! I still think it’s fair to say most people don’t see them very often even though, as I also said, they’re reasonably common.

  4. Dana says:

    Managed to somehow have one of these beauties trapped in my uniform shirt this morning, thought it was a cockroach from the feel of the size and when i took the shirt off and flapped it around a bit my lovely hitchhiker dropped out. Spent ages trying to figure out what it was, thanks for the great picture as it looks exactly like my new friend =D

  5. Sam Hawkins says:

    Hi there. I have a extremely large one photoed in my wood stack

  6. Imogen says:

    What weight are they? We just found one in the wood pile. had a bit of a suprise finding it and it ran away.

    • number8network says:

      Hi Imogen, it’s hard to find precise information on how heavy these animals are, the bit about them being by weight the biggest of all NZ spiders comes from Ray and Lyn Forster’s book, Spiders of New Zealand and Their Worldwide Kin (1999, Otago University Press). The best I can find is that the closely related and similarly sized black tunnelweb (Porrhothele antipodiana) has reported weights up to 2.8 grams – after having a good feed of garden snails! (http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-Bio25Tuat02-t1-body-d8.html). Peter Jackson has reportedly said Shelob, in his movie The Return of the King, was inspired by this spider. Don’t know whether banded tunnelwebs eat garden snails, be nice if they did!

  7. Garry Hibbert says:

    Weighs next to nothing, we’re talking grams… Prob between 10-50 range.

  8. wade says:

    hi cool pics
    i found one of these spiders while splitting manuka firewood.
    it was big as i put it in a jar and showed my wife and kids they all freaked at the size of it.
    we then let it go.
    i have been searching for it on the net to identify what kind of spider it was.
    this is it

  9. James says:

    Found one of these in a load of firewood that we had delivered one winter… I assume it was the cold that kept it sitting still… whew…. I saw the creases in the head, and how big the damn thing was… all I thought was it’s an Aussie spider… like a funnel web or something…. mainly because I had never seen anything like it before in my entire life, or one that big… I freaked a little, and proceeded to throw a large bit of wood at it… I felt better, but I had to find out what the hell it was! Did not know we had spiders like that in this country!

  10. Jacod says:

    Mate I have seen red head tunnelwebs down here with the leg span of my palm. 15-16cm. Bulky as too.

  11. Jacod says:


    I’m not sure how this happens. Because these spiders shouldn’t be able to grow this big. They moult a fix amount of time. It’s very strange that they are this large.

    • N8N says:

      Hi Jacod, I think you’re right – spiders, at least in the genus Stanwellia, shouldn’t be able to grow this big. But that Herald story should probably be taken with a grain of salt – it’s easy to make a spider appear big by holding it close to the camera, and there’s nothing to provide scale on this one. And it’s not in the website’s interest to question the story, which was the most-clicked on the Wairarapa Times-Age website for the year. Tunnelwebs (Hexathele and Porrhothele) are generally bigger than Stanwellia.

  12. Ants says:

    My mum came out This morning with a giant spider on her dressing gown when I told her she could’nt get the dressing gown off fast enough, dad caught it in a jar and it was just like the photo up the top

  13. blake says:

    I found one of the exact same spiders yesterday while splitting wood, it just jumped out unharmed and crawled into some tree roots with a couple stops on the way but I managed to snap some awesome picks of it and I posted them up on my instagram @blake.photography64 the one I found was about 6cm wide about the same size as the one you caught maybe even bigger

  14. CBAR says:

    Hi there spider experts,
    Me and my lovely wife are going to go spider hunting.
    Any tips and tricks you can give us?

    • N8N says:

      Wouldn’t call ourselves experts 🙂 Your best option is probably to go out at night with a good torch or headlamp into an area of reasonably intact native bush. Pick a warm, humid night, preferably after rain. A good way to pick out spiders is to scan the vegetation through binoculars while holding your torch/headlamp so that you’re viewing directly along the light beam. Spiders’ eyes reflect strongly and show up as bright points of light, like miniature cats’ eyes.

  15. Groovejets says:

    What a fine specimen. Thrilled to observe your respect for this beautiful NZ arachnid. I found a much smaller one in my garage on the North Shore in Auckland and also backed off so as not to disturb the animal. Thanks for the post, greatly enjoyed by my kids and I. Educate and preserve.

  16. Karl says:

    Finally able to put a name to this species. I have seen plenty in the garden here in south taranaki. Up until now, we called them weta spiders.

  17. Kelly says:

    The title of this is very misleading. They are not NZs biggest spider by weight. Porrhothele grow at least a CM larger in the body and are even bulkier in build. I own several of both species. We also have at least 40 species of trapdoor in NZ that can easily knock a banded tunnelweb out weight wise. In a final note there are 20 discribed species within the hexathele family in NZ and even a expert cannot tell just by looking a photos that is this actually a hochstetteri.

    • N8N says:

      Thanks for your comments Kelly, good to have input from someone who has personal experience of these animals. While it’s not possible to get all the details into a headline, the article makes it clear that the “biggest of all NZ spiders” refers to the Hexathelidae generally (which includes Porrhothele), rather than this species in particular. That’s attributed to the Forsters, who know a lot more about spiders than I do, so I took their word for it! Interesting that you say some of the trapdoor spiders can be even bigger, I haven’t seen this anywhere else. Regarding whether this is actually a hochstetteri, it seems from what I’ve read that many of the Hexathele species have restricted ranges, many of them confined to the South Island, and the photos I’ve seen of other Hexathele species all look a lot darker. The Forsters (again) say “In the North Island, the commonest species of Hexathele is large, with a yellowish-brown carapace and a prominent chevron pattern on the upper abdominal surface … A number of dark coloured, and sometimes black, species are also found in the North Island. … The pale but distinctively patterned abdomen is characteristic of Hexathele hochstetteri.” If you know of any other Hexathele species in the Waikato that have a similar chevron pattern on the abdomen I’d be interested to know what they are, and any pointers on how to distinguish them.

  18. Stephen Thomas says:

    Do we have a native pamphobetus Antonius in far north

    • N8N says:

      Hi Stephen – Pamphobeteus antinous is a South American tarantula and doesn’t occur in NZ. The native spider that looks most like it is probably the black tunnelweb, Porrhothele antipodiana. Just looking at the iNaturalistNZ site it has been recorded as far north as Kerikeri, so that may be what you’ve seen.

  19. […] If you would like to meet the biggest of all New Zealand spiders who visited us, click here for our story. […]

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