With more than 2300 known species, South Africa could be considered a hotspot of this spider diversity. Truly remarkable though, is the fact that more than 60% of the species are endemic to the country and occur nowhere else in the world. This a consequence of the region’s unique biogeographic context and geological history. Therefore, southern Africa in general, and South Africa in particular, are key to our understanding of spider evolution and diversity. Although still fragmented, an integrated understanding of South African spider diversity has emerged over the last 20 years, pointing to a unique heritage, large gaps in our understanding and much more future discoveries. We hope that the resources in this webpage will provide a platform for continued discovery, understanding, and the ultimate wisdom to conserve this heritage.
Silk and venom have been key to the success of spiders. The presence of abdominal glands that produce silk is a uniquely defining characteristic of spiders and the discovery of fossils with spigots (modified setae from which silk emerges) in middle Devonian strata suggests that spiders have been around for more than 370 million years! Since then, they have evolved a myriad of forms, functions, and behaviours which has translated into more into approximately 50 000 known, and 100 000 uncatalogued species globally, varying in size from 0.5 mm to 13 cm, unequalled degree of chemical diversity of venom, occupying all continents except Antarctica.