BioKIDS home

Kids' Inquiry of Diverse Species

Tetragnatha versicolor

What do they look like?

The body of these spiders is slim, 2 to 3 times longer than it is wide. Females are larger than males, with females measuring 5.4 to 13.3 mm in body length, and males measuring 4.3 to 9.2 mm long. Body color varies from pale tan to dark brown, often with dark markings on the abdomen. In some individuals the abdomen has a silvery white stripe or may be almost entirely silvery. The first, second, and fourth pairs of legs are much longer than the body, and the legs range in color from yellow to light brown. The jaws and palps of spiders in this family are quite long. This species can only be distinguished from other species of Tetragnatha by examining microscopic details of its anatomy. Like most spiders, this species has venom glands that it uses to kill its prey. (Bradley, 2013; Dondale, et al., 2003; Howell and Jenkins, 2004)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range length
    4.3 to 13.3 mm
    0.17 to 0.52 in

Where do they live?

Tetragnatha versicolor, a species of long-jawed orb weaver, is found across North America from Alaska and Newfoundland, south to Cuba and Baja California, and into Central America as far as Nicaragua. (Dondale, et al., 2003; Levi, 1981)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Tetragnatha versicolor lives in trees and shrubs. This species most often lives near or over fresh water, along streams, around lakes, in swamps and marshes. It is also found in humid forests and meadows away from water, and in agricultural areas if pesticides are not used. It is found in a wide range of elevations, from 520 to 1755 m. (Aiken and Coyle, 2000; Bradley, 2013; Dondale, et al., 2003; Weber, 2003)

  • Range elevation
    520 to 1755 m
    1706.04 to 5757.87 ft

How do they grow?

We have no specific information about development in T. versicolor. Females lay their eggs in silk-covered cases in the summer. Young spiderlings hatch, and shed their skins several times as they grow. The exact number of molts before adulthood is unknown. It is not clear which stage survives the winter in cold climates. Adults are found from early spring through autumn. (Bradley, 2013; Weber, 2003)

How do they reproduce?

Males and females of T. versicolor will mate with multiple partners if given the opportunity. Males likely communicate with prospective mates somehow when they approach, perhaps by vibrating the web, but there is little information available. To initiate mating, males approach the female, usually on the female's web. The pair quickly rush each other, and then interlock their chelicerae. Males transfer their sperm to the female using their palps, and when the transfer is complete, they untangle their chelicerae and leave. (Danielson-François and Bukowski, 2005)

Once a female of this species matures, she will mate with one or more males and start producing egg cases. Mating apparently occurs in late spring and summer in temperate climates, but we have no information about breeding activity in warmer climates. Kaston (1946) reported one case contained 103 eggs, and cites another report of 60 eggs in a case. Related species of Tetragnatha can produces a new egg case every 2 weeks if well-fed. Danielson-François says that females are often found in aggregations, with several males present, so finding a mate may not be difficult. Females store sperm so even one mating may be sufficient to ensure substantial egg production. The exact time to hatching is unknown, but is apparently a few weeks. (Danielson-François and Bukowski, 2005; Kaston, 1946; Weber, 2003)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Tetragnatha versicolor can mate many times in their lives.
  • Breeding season
    Mating takes place in late spring and summer.
  • Range number of offspring
    60 to 103

Females of Tetragnatha versicolor provide nourishment to the offspring by including yolk in their eggs. They also protect their eggs by gluing them together, enclosing the clutch in silk, and suspending it off the ground in vegetation. Males do not contribute to offspring care. (Bradley, 2013; Weber, 2003)

How long do they live?

We have no information on the maximum lifespan in Tetragnatha versicolor. Individuals probably can live at least a year, though most probably do not survive that long.

How do they behave?

Hatchlings of this species can travel through the air by spinning a long thread of silk and holding on to it as it floats on the wind. This is called "ballooning." However, individuals of this species spend nearly their whole lives living in shrubs, trees or other tall vegetation, where they build their webs. Like many related species, they build two-dimensional wheel-shaped webs. For T. versicolor, the web is often tilted more horizontally than vertically, especially if built over water.

These spiders tend to stay in one place as long as they continue to catch prey. Like many spider species, they can eat their webs, and will do so if hunting has not been good. When hunting, T. versicolor individuals lie in wait for prey to be trapped in their web. The spiders either sit in the center of their web, or they will rest on a nearby twig or branch. When resting on a twig, they line their legs and body up with the twig. This makes them hard to see.

If they fall on the water, they can walk quickly on the surface of the water if it is still. (Bradley, 2013; Foelix, 1996; Levi, 1981; Weber, 2003)

How do they communicate with each other?

Like most spiders, T. versicolor has poor vision. It is very sensitive to touch and vibrations in its web. It can also sense humidity in the air, and probably tastes with the palps on either side of its jaws. When attempting to mate, males and females communicate by vibrating the female's web. (Bradley, 2013; Foelix, 1996)

What do they eat?

Long-jawed orbsweavers feed mainly on flying insects that they catch in their silken web. They will catch and eat other insects and small arthropods that pass by or are also caught in the web. They build a flat wheel-shaped web. Often the web is more horizontal than vertical. (Bradley, 2013; Dondale, et al., 2003)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

This species avoids predators by being active only at night. During the day it hides in vegetation, and rests with its legs and body lined up along a twig to make it harder to see. If disturbed on the twig or in its web it will quickly drop to escape. It tends to live among very thin branches, where heavier predators cannot easily reach it. Predators of Tetragnatha versicolor include birds, lizards, salamanders, small mammals such as shrews, and jumping spiders. (Bradley, 2013; Foelix, 1996; Weber, 2003)

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

We have very little information on the ecosystem roles of this species. It may be a significant predator on flying insects, especially aquatic insects that have emerged from the water to mate and disperse. It also serves as prey to a variety of animals, including birds, lizards, and small mammals. (Bradley, 2013; Weber, 2003)

Do they cause problems?

There are no known adverse effects of Tetragnatha versicolor on humans. The species is venomous, but its bite is not known to be harmful to humans.

How do they interact with us?

Tetragnatha versicolor eats pest insects, including mosquitos and other flies. (Bradley, 2013; Weber, 2003)

Are they endangered?

This species is common and widespread, and not considered to be in need of special conservation efforts. It is not listed as threatened or endangered.


George Hammond (author), Animal Diversity Web Staff.


Aiken, M., F. Coyle. 2000. Habitat distribution, life history, and behavior of Tetragnatha spider species in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Journal of Arachnology, 28: 97-106. Accessed February 24, 2014 at

Bradley, R. 2013. Common Spiders of North America. Berkeley, California, USA: University of California Press.

Danielson-François, A., T. Bukowski. 2005. Female mating history influences copulation behavior but not sperm release in the orb-weaving spider Tetragnatha versicolor (Araneae, Tetragnathidae). Journal of Insect Behavior, 18/1: 131-148.

Dondale, C., J. Redner, P. Paquin, H. Levi. 2003. The Orb-Weaving Spiders of Canada and Alaska. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: NRC Research Press.

Foelix, R. 1996. Biology of Spiders, 2nd edition. New York City, New York, USA: Oxford University Press, Inc..

Howell, W., R. Jenkins. 2004. Spiders of the Eastern United States. Boston, MA, USA: Pearson Education, Inc..

Kaston, B. 1946. Spiders of Connecticut. Hartford, Connecticut, USA: State of Connecticut.

Levi, H. 1981. The American orb-weaver genera Dolichognatha and Tetragnatha North of Mexico (Araneae: Araneidae, Tetragnathinae). Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, 149/5: 271-318.

Weber, L. 2003. Spiders Of The North Woods. Duluth, Minnesota, USA: Kollath-Stensaas Publishing.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

BioKIDS home  |  Questions?  |  Animal Diversity Web  |  Cybertracker Tools

Hammond, G. 2014. "Tetragnatha versicolor" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed October 18, 2017 at

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.
Copyright © 2002-2017, The Regents of the University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

University of Michigan