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Local animals in this group:

Araneae

What do they look like?

All spiders have two body sections: the cephalothorax in front and an abdomen behind. The abdomen contains the digestive and reproductive systems, and on the underside of it are the glands where silk is produced. The structures that produce the silk are called spinnerets.

They have eight legs, all attached to the cephalothorax. On the front of the cephalothorax are the mouth, the fangs, the eyes, and two small "mini-legs" called pedipalps. These are used to grab prey, and in mating, and are much bigger in male spiders than in females. Different species of spiders have six or eight eyes, and the size and arrangement of eyes is different in different groups. All spiders have fangs that they use to bite their prey with, and most have venom glands.

Female spiders are often much bigger than males.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger

Where do they live?

Spiders are everywhere! Baby spiders are so light, they can put out a line of silk and float away on a breeze, and so they are spread around the globe. Also, spiders that live in peoples' houses often get moved around by accident when people move. Spiders are found on every continent, and there are over 40,000 species known to science. That's not all of them though, there are thousands more we don't know about yet.

What kind of habitat do they need?

Spiders survive in every habitat on land except the very coldest. There are even a few in shallow fresh water.

How do they grow?

Spiders hatch from eggs, and the hatchlings look more or less like grown-up spiders, though sometimes their colors change as they age. To grow they have to shed their exoskeleton, which they do many times during their lives. Unlike insects, some spider species keep growing after they become adults, and continue to molt as they get bigger.

How do they reproduce?

After mating adult female spiders lay dozens to hundreds of eggs. The number varies among species and is affected by how well fed she is.

  • Breeding season
    Spring to Fall, depending on the species and location.

Female spiders often guard their eggs and young, or even carry them with them until the young have hatched and molted.

How long do they live?

Most spider species live a year or less, but some large ones can live for several years. Usually males die soon after they mate, it's only the females that can live longer.

How do they behave?

Nearly all spiders live as solitary hunters, only finding another of their species to mate. Many species make complicated webs to trap prey and give themselves protection. A few tropical species live in groups in really big webs.

How do they communicate with each other?

Spiders are very sensitive to vibrations, especially in their webs. Most don't see very well, but the Jumping Spiders see very well.

What do they eat?

All spiders are predators. They attack only live insects, other spiders, and other invertebrates. A few very large spider species attack small vertebrates like lizards, minnows, or frogs, but this is rare. Spiders are famous for trapping their prey in webs of sticky silk, but many of them are wandering predators who don't use silk to catch prey.

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats non-insect arthropods

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Spiders often have good camouflage, and many of the wandering hunter species hunt at night when big predators can't see them. Many spiders build a retreat of silk to hide in too. Some are quick runners, and will just run away if they can. These may use their silk as a safety line, jumping off into the air with a silk thread attached so they don't fall.

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Spiders are major predators of insects, including many insects that are pests to humans.

Do they cause problems?

Spiders scare a lot of people (usually this is unnecessary). A few spider species have venom that is dangerous to people, but spider bites are actually pretty rare. They get blamed for a lot of skin injuries that are not actually spider bites. Most spiders have such small weak fangs that they couldn't break a person's skin, even if they wanted to.

  • Ways that these animals might be a problem for humans
  • injures humans
    • bites or stings

How do they interact with us?

Spiders eat a lot of insects that are agricultural pests and eat our food.

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • controls pest population

Contributors

George Hammond (author), Animal Diversity Web.

Glossary

Australian

Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map

Ethiopian

living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends.

bog

a wetland area rich in accumulated plant material and with acidic soils surrounding a body of open water. Bogs have a flora dominated by sedges, heaths, and sphagnum.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chaparral

mid-altitude coastal areas with mild, rainy winters and long, dry summers. Dominant plant types are dense, evergreen shrubs.

colonial

used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

marsh

marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

oceanic islands

islands that are not part of continental shelf areas, they are not, and have never been, connected to a continental land mass, most typically these are volcanic islands.

oriental

found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

polyandrous

Referring to a mating system in which a female mates with several males during one breeding season (compare polygynous).

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Climbing plants are also abundant. There is plenty of moisture and rain, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

semelparous

offspring are all produced in a single group (litter, clutch, etc.), after which the parent usually dies. Semelparous organisms often only live through a single season/year (or other periodic change in conditions) but may live for many seasons. In both cases reproduction occurs as a single investment of energy in offspring, with no future chance for investment in reproduction.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

solitary

lives alone

swamp

a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.

taiga

this biome is characterized by large expanses of coniferous forest, there is an extended cold season and heavy snowfall.

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tundra

A terrestrial biome found in very cold places -- either close to polar regions or high on mountains. Part of the soil stays frozen all year. Few kinds of plants grow here, and these are low mats or shrubs not trees. The growing season is short.

 
University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Hammond, G. . "Araneae" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 25, 2014 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Araneae/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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