1. Charismatic invertebrates are popular subjects for citizen science but it is harder to engage the public in research on animals that are perceived as dangerous. Many successful citizen science projects exist in North America and Europe, but with the increased use of new technologies and social media, there is a greater capacity to expand citizen science to less developed regions. 2. Baboon spiders are African members of the tarantula family. They are threatened by habitat loss and illegal harvesting for the pet trade, and conservation efforts are hampered by a lack of knowledge on their ecology. 3. Here, we describe the Baboon Spider Atlas, a project combining traditional research with citizen science to map the diversity and distributions of baboon spiders (Araneae: Theraphosidae) in Southern Africa. Our project embraces the ‘fear factor’ associated with spiders to obtain photographic records from the public. 4. The Baboon Spider Atlas has assembled the largest database of information on baboon spiders in Southern Africa and is providing novel insights into their biology. Distribution ranges have been extended and potential new species discovered. Preliminary results suggest that their distribution may be limited more by cold, wet climatic conditions than hot, dry conditions. Records for wandering adult females and immatures highlight a previously undocumented behaviour and challenges the notion that baboon spiders are sedentary animals. Ultimately, the project is generating the data needed for effective conservation and motivating further research that will provide a better understanding of baboon spider biology.