Spider Week on pause

You may have noticed that Spider Week has lost some steam here and on twitter. It was a fun idea that came at a time when I probably should have realized I already had a bit too much on my plate. Then more things got piled on, and I started to get sick. For now, spider week is on pause, but please expect posts on the remaining five spiders sometime soon!

Steatoda grossa female

False widows in the genus Steatoda were the spider of the day on Tuesday, but I have not yet had time to write a full post on them. Photo: Sean McCann.

Fishing spiders (family Pisauridae)

Today’s featured spiders for Spider Week are the fishing spiders (also known as raft spiders) in the genus Dolomedes. I suspect the reason they are so often mistaken for brown recluse spiders is that they are (a) brown, and (b) often very large. Brown recluse spiders aren’t particularly large, but folks seem to (erroneously) associate size with danger when it comes to spiders.

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A large female Dolomedes tenebrosus from southern Ontario. Photo: Sean McCann, used with permission.

Fishing spiders are members of the family Pisauridae, commonly known as nursery web spiders. Female spiders in this family make excellent mothers. They carry their large silken egg sacs around in their chelicerae (jaws) until the spiderlings inside are just about ready to emerge. Presumably this means that females don’t eat at all during this time!

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Dolomedes female carrying her egg sac in her jaws. Photo: Ron Knopik, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The spider then builds a nursery web in vegetation and suspends the egg sac inside. She stands guard until the spiderlings emerge. They remain in the nursery web for a while, undergoing one moult before setting out on their own.

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Nursery web spider guarding her nursery in New Zealand. Photo: Tony Wills, licensed under CC BY 3.0.

The large fishing spiders, including Dolomedes tenebrosus and Dolomedes scriptus are also sometimes called dock spiders or wharf spiders. They are typically found on or near water – often on human-made structures.

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Dock spider (Dolomedes tenebrosus) on part of a wooden wharf in Ontario. Photo: Sean McCann, used with permission.

As their common name suggests, fishing spiders make a living hunting for fish, tadpoles, and aquatic invertebrates. They can walk on water and even sail across the water’s surface either by lifting their front legs, or by standing up on ‘tip-toe’ to catch the wind.

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Six-spotted fishing spider (Dolomedes triton)resting on the surface of a pond in the Okanagan. Photo: Sean McCann, used with permission.

While hunting, fishing spiders typically rest with their back legs on floating wood or vegetation, and their front legs resting lightly on the water’s surface. This way they can detect surface waves on the water, allowing them to locate potential prey. If the spider detects a fish under the water, they use their back legs to push off and dive after it. Dolomedes triton also dives under water when disturbed – this may be a good way to avoid predators such as birds (or a scary human trying to catch them, which is how I first observed this behaviour). And they can stay under water for up to half an hour! They are able to breathe underwater because spider lungs are located on the abdomen, which is covered with fine hairs that trap air, forming a sort of diving bell.

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Fishing spider (Dolomedes tenebrosus) in hunting position on the water’s surface. Photo: Sean McCann, used with permission.

Notes on Identification

Fishing spiders are most likely to be confused with wolf spiders (family Lycosidae). The best way to tell them apart is the eye arrangement. Wolf spiders have three rows of eyes, with the forward-facing pair in the middle row (the posterior median eyes) very large, and the first row of four eyes in a straight line or slightly procurved (curved downwards).

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Wolf spider eye arrangement. Photo: Sean McCann, used with permission.

Fishing spiders have only two rows of four eyes each. Both rows are slightly recurved (curving upwards or toward the back end of the spider) and the posterior median eyes are not that much larger than the rest.

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Fishing spider eye arrangement. Photo: Sean McCann, used with permission.

References and further reading:

A dedicated mother (with fantastic photos!) by Alex Hyde

Canada’s largest spider by Chris Buddle

Pisauridae: Nursery web spiders by Africa Gomez

Adams, R. J. (2014). Field Guide to the Spiders of California and the Pacific Coast States (Vol. 108). University of California Press.

Bradley, R. A. (2012). Common Spiders of North America. University of California Press.

Carico, J. E. (1973). The Nearctic species of the genus Dolomedes (Araneae: Pisauridae). Bulletin of The Museum of Comparative Zoology, 144:435-488.

McAlister, W. H. (1960). The diving and surface-walking behaviour of Dolomedes triton sexpunctatus (Araneida: Pisauridae). Animal Behaviour,8(1-2), 109-111.

Nyffeler, M., & Pusey, B. J. (2014). Fish predation by semi-aquatic spiders: a global pattern. PLOS ONE, 9(6), e99459.

Suter, R. B. (1999). Cheap transport for fishing spiders (Araneae, Pisauridae): The physics of sailing on the water surface. Journal of Arachnology, 27:489-496.

 

 

Yellow sac spiders (family Eutichuridae)

The first spider of spider week, squeezing into the 7th-most-likely-to-be-misidentified-as-a-brown-recluse spot (despite not even being brown), is the yellow sac spider. This common name may be used to refer to multiple similar-looking species in the genus Cheiracanthium (family Eutichuridae).

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Cheiracanthium inclusum (female). Photo: Joe Lapp (also known as Spider Joe), used with permission.

In North America we have two species: Cheiracanthium inclusum (a native species) and  C. mildei (introduced from Europe). Other names for yellow sac spiders include black-footed spiders, long-legged sac spiders, and yellow house spiders. All are pretty good descriptive names, because Cheiracanthium are indeed long-legged, black-footed, and commonly found in houses. Cheiracanthium mildei is more often found indoors, whereas C. inclusum (also known as the agrarian sac spider) is more common outdoors in fields and foliage.

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Cheiracanthium male. Photo: Sean McCann, used with permission.

Identification: Yellow sac spiders are fairly easy to identify based on some distinctive features. They have relatively long legs, with the front pair of legs longer than the rest, and black “feet” (tarsi equipped with tufts of dark hairs that allow the spider to easily scale vertical walls). Overall colouration can vary from pale yellow or tan to light green or even sometimes orange or brown, depending on the spider’s diet. Typically there is a darker longitudinal stripe called a heart mark (because that’s where the spider’s heart is) along the abdomen. Although most folks don’t usually get close enough to count them, the eight eyes are all similar in size and arranged in two nearly straight rows. Sac spiders in the family Clubionidae are probably most likely to be confused with yellow sac spiders, but they have shorter, more robust legs, and the front pair is not longest.

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Cheiracanthium inclusum. Photo: Joe Lapp, used with permission.

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Cheiracanthium eye arrangement. Photo: Don Loarie, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cheiracanthium male. Photo: Natalie McNear, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Natural History: Yellow sac spiders build silk ‘sleep-sacs’ in rolled up leaves (when living in the great outdoors) or where walls meet ceilings inside houses. They may rebuild these retreats every night just before dawn, and rest inside during the day.

Yellow sac spiders are active nocturnal hunters, but in addition to insects and other arthropods, they also feed on extrafloral nectaries of plants such as castor bean. Most people think of spiders as strict carnivores, but in practice many spiders have a more varied diet.

When a male finds a female in her sleep sac, they tap on the outside of the silk retreat (how polite!) and then start cutting the silk away from the entrance (less mannerly).

Myth-busting

For a time, Cheiracanthium was considered one of three ‘medically significant’ spider genera in North America, along with the recluse spiders (Loxosceles) and the widow spiders (Latrodectus). Their bad reputation turns out to be undeserved – they do NOT cause necrotic lesions like brown recluse spiders as was once thought. They do have a rather painful bite – like a bee or wasp sting – but the results of envenomation are not serious. Because they often live in close association with humans, bites from these spiders may be more common than spider bites in general, but still extremely rare. (There’s probably one or more in your house, and you’ve almost certainly never been bitten – you’d know it if you had!) Remember that spiders don’t bite humans except in very rare circumstances.

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Cheiracanthium sp. from in Illinois. Note that it is NOT biting, but rather trying to escape! Photo by Andrew Hoffman, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Check out his blog post about yellow sac spiders and the taking of this picture.

Another myth holds that these spiders are attracted to the smell of gasoline. Yellow sac spiders were responsible for the recall of several thousand cars but there is no actual evidence that they like the smell of gas.

References

Adams, R. J. (2014). Field Guide to the Spiders of California and the Pacific Coast States (Vol. 108). University of California Press.

Bradley, R. A. (2012). Common Spiders of North America. University of California Press.

Taylor, R. M., & Foster, W. A. (1996). Spider nectarivory. American Entomologist, 42(2), 82-86.

Vetter, R. S., Isbister, G. K., Bush, S. P., & Boutin, L. J. (2006). Verified bites by yellow sac spiders (genus Cheiracanthium) in the United States and Australia: where is the necrosis? The American journal of tropical medicine and hygiene, 74(6), 1043-1048.

More blog posts about yellow sac spiders:

The Ceiling Spider by Chris Buddle

Blame it on the sac spider by Andrew Hoffman

Longlegged sac spiders by Bug Eric

Announcing Spider Week

Starting tomorrow, Shark Week begins on the Discovery Channel. If you prefer spiders to sharks (which, of course you do, right?!) and facts to fearmongering, here at Spider Bytes and on twitter we’ll be celebrating #SpiderWeek!

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Here’s the plan: starting tomorrow (Sunday June 19), each day will feature a different spider family. These seven families will be chosen from among the most-misidentified spiders on twitter, based on the data I collected last year from my first several months of my #NotABrownRecluse campaign. (Here’s how to tell if a spider is not a brown recluse – tell all your friends!)

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A brown recluse spider we found in Texas. Photo: Sean McCann.

The top seven families will be featured in ascending order, starting with the 7th-most-often-mistaken-for-a-brown-recluse and ending with the number one most often misidentified spider-that-is-not-a-brown-recluse. Each day I will ask folks on twitter to guess which spider is coming next (points will be awarded!) and then I will post a blog entry about the day’s spider family. I’m not sure yet what they will be, but prizes will be awarded at the end of the week. Follow along here and on twitter, and be sure to ask questions and to contribute your own facts, photos, and suggestions through either medium! The goal is to celebrate spiders and learn something about their biology and how to identify them.

Get ready for some serious spider-related fun and facts, and have a fantastic Spider Week!