Other names: Bobbejaanspinnekop (Afrikaans), segokgo (Sepedi), puma (Xitsonga).

The endemic South African spider Idiothele mira received its name from the Latin word “mirus” which means wonderful .This was referring to the sky-blue coloration of the end parts of the legs (or tarsi and metatarsi). The Blue-footed baboon spider is much sought after amongst collectors and is traded as a pet globally.

South Africa has a rich diversity of baboon spiders, represented by eight genera and 44 species of which 35 are endemic to the region. They belong to the family Theraphosidae. These spiders are known as baboon spiders in Africa and they are referred to as tarantulas by the Americans. The common name comes from the hairy appearance of the spider and from the pads of the spider’s “feet” which resemble the colour and texture of that of a baboon’s finger.

Blue-footed baboon spider leg (credited)

Description/How to recognise a blue-footed baboon spider

The Blue-footed baboon spider ranges in length from 20-30mm.  The upper surface of the tarsi and metatarsi (the last two segments of the legs) of the Blue-footed baboon spider is sky-blue in life, and dark grey in alcohol. The abdomen has a dark median line and chevrons and its lateral surface is beige with a dark pattern of bars, spots and reticulations.

Getting around

Baboon spiders are ground-dwelling and they spend most of their time inside their burrows. They do not usually move far from the burrow.


The Blue-footed baboon spider is endemic to South Africa where it is only known from Ndumo Game Reserve and Tembe Elephant Park in KwaZulu-Natal.


Blue-footed baboon spiders are terrestrial and they construct densely silk-lined tunnels/cells beneath rocks and logs in lightly wooded habitats. The burrow can be up to 25cm deep, running shallowly and obliquely to the soil surface. 


Most baboon spiders are predominantly nocturnal sit-and wait hunters and most species await the approach of prey within the entrance of their burrows. Baboon spiders are carnivores and feed on a variety of small invertebrates such as beetles, grasshoppers, millipedes, cockroaches, crickets, and other spiders. They may also be cannibals, the young eat each other and the females often eat the males after mating.

Sex and life cycle


In baboon spiders in general mating usually take place in spring and summer, after the first rain when the male and female have reached maturity. Before mating the male transfers sperm from the genital opening under the abdomen to the secondary sexual organs on the pedipalps (the first pair of leg-like structures). The sperm is deposited on a small sperm web; it is then absorbed with the palpal organ at the end of the pedipalps where it is stored until mating.

Males usually change their life-style completely in search of female. A male baboon spider approaches the burrow of a female very carefully and taps rhythmically on the ground surface against the sides of the burrow, until the females makes her appearance. The jaws of the female are forced to open with strong mating spines on the front legs of the male to prevent the male being attacked during mating.

Life cycle

Baboon spiders are very long-lived spiders and they may take up to 10 years to reach maturity. While some spider species live only for a year, baboon spiders can live from 15 to 20 years or longer. Female baboon spiders have been documented to live for over 30 years, with the males typically living a shorter life than the females. Their life expectancy can be influenced by factors such as starvation, dehydration, cannibalism and natural enemies that attack spiders.  

The big picture

Friends and foes

Baboon spiders are attacked by a variety of small animals such as birds, centipedes, reptiles (lizards, chameleons), insectivorous mammals (honey badger, shrews, bats, mice and baboons) and other arachnids such as scorpions.

Smart strategies

Baboon spiders produce venom to defend themselves against predators. They also use their large fangs to deliver a nasty bite. When alarmed baboon spiders will throw their front legs backwards and open their chelicerae in a threatening pose.

Poorer world without me

Spiders play an important role in the environment as they feed on harmful insects and mites.

People & I

A common misconception about spiders is that they all possess venom that can kill or have serious effects on the human victim. In fact, there are no reports of baboon spider’s venom having any medically important effects on humans. Some baboon spiders are known to deliver painful bites, but the toxicity of the Blue-footed baboon spider is not known. Species in the closely relates genus Pterinochilus produce a neurotoxic venom but it seems to not have a severe effect on man. Bites in humans result in a burning pain at the bite site.

Conservation status and what the future holds

There is a great demand for baboon spiders because of their desirability as pets. Although the Blue-footed baboon spider is found in protected areas, it may be threatened by over-collecting for the pet trade, although it seems like most of the Blue-footed baboon spiders for sale on the internet have been bred in captivity which does reduce pressure on the wild populations.

Currently Idiothele mira has not been formally assessed for the IUCN Red List, but within South Africa it is included on the draft list of Threatened or Protected Species (ToPS). This restriction means that it is illegal to collect, transport, or keep these spiders without a permit.


There are only two species in the genus Idiothele.  The other recognized species from this genus is Idiothele nigrofulva which is readily distinguished from I. mira by its colour which is light brown with yellow stripes on a dark background, whilst I. mira is characterized by sky-blue colour of the dorsal surface of the lower part of the legs (the tarsi and metatarsi). Idiothele nigrofulva is known from Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Scientific classification

Class: Arachnida
Order: Araneae
Family: Theraphosidae
Genus: Idiothele
Species: Idiothele mira Gallon, 2010.

References and further reading

  • Dippenaar-Schoeman A.S & Holm, E., 2010. Goggo Guide: The Arthropods of Southern Africa. LAPA Publishers.
  • Dippenaar-Schoeman, A.S. 2002. Baboon and Trapdoor spiders of Southern Africa: Identification Manual. Plant Protection Research Institute Handbook no.13, Agricultural Research Council, Pretoria.
  • Dippenaar-Schoeman, A.S., Foord, S.H. & Haddad, C.R. 2013. Spiders of the Savanna Biome. University of Venda, Thoyoyandou, and Agricultural Research Council, Pretoria, South Africa.
  • Gallon R.C.2010. On some Southern African Harpactirinae, with notes on the eumenophorines Pelinobius muticus Kirsch, 1885 and Monocentrpella Strand, 1907 (Araneae Theraphosidae). Bulletin of the Arachnological Society 15: 29-48.
  • Perret, B.A. 1974a. The venom of the East African spider Pterinochilus sp. Toxicon 12: 303-310.
  • http://www.biodiversityexplorer.org/arachnids/spiders/theraphosidae/

Author: Given Leballo

Biosystematics, SANBI
December 2013

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