Sunday, April 15, 2012

Spider Sunday: Triangulate Cobweb Weaver

One of the spiders most frequently encountered in basements, garages, and cellars over much of North America is the Triangulate Cobweb Spider, Steatoda triangulosa. It is a member of the cobweb weaver family Theridiidae, and therefore related to black widows. Not surprisingly, it is sometimes mistaken for a widow.

This species is widely distributed in the U.S., from Massachusetts to Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Oregon, and California, and all points south (though nearly absent in the southwest and in Florida). It is also recorded from southern Ontario, Canada. It is also known from central and southern Europe, the Mediterranean region, and what was formerly southern Russia. Indeed, it is suspected that S. triangulosa was introduced to North America from overseas.

Adult females are only 3.6-5.9 millimeters in body length, males even smaller at 3.5-4.7 millimeters. Both genders usually sport the same distinctive pattern on the abdomen: a background color of dirty white or beige with a pair of bold, wavy, rusty or purplish brown lines down the back. The cephalothorax is normally dark reddish brown, and the legs pale brown or yellowish with dark bands at the joints. Males have a more slender, leggy appearance than females.

The Triangulate Cobweb Weaver spins an irregular, tangled web with a more-or-less sheet-like central platform. It seems to prefer dark recesses where it can dash into a crevice if disturbed. Look for them in your basement, cellar, garage, water meter box, or under bridges and in culverts, where the entire web may be protected from the elements. The spider hangs upside down in its web.

Mating occurs from late spring through early autumn. Females deposit about thirty eggs at a time, wrapping them in an opaque, white, spherical sac. The eggs may be seen through the sheer fabric enclosing them. A female may produce six or more egg sacs in her lifetime.

This species preys on a variety of insects, including the Red Imported Fire Ant (“RIFA”) in the southern U.S. Unfortunately, it is an unlikely candidate as a biological control agent of that pest (MacKay and Vinson, 1989). This is apparently a spider that “plays well with others,” as it may build its web in relatively close proximity to the webs of other cobweb weavers, cellar spiders, and even brown recluse spiders.

Don’t be alarmed by the presence of this species. It is not recognized as being dangerously venomous to people or pets. Indeed, it is such a small spider that its bite is unlikely to puncture human skin anyway

Sources: Howell, W. Mike and Ronald L. Jenkins. Spiders of the Eastern United States: A Photographic Guide. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc. 361 pp.
Jackman, John A. 1997. A Field Guide to Spiders & Scorpions of Texas. Houston: Gulf Publishing Company. 201 pp.
Jones, Dick. 1983. The Larousse Guide to Spiders. New York: Larousse & Company, Inc. 320 pp.
Levi, Herbert W. 1957. “The Spider Genera Crustulina and Steatoda in North America, Central America, and the West Indies (Araneae: Theridiidae),” Bull Mus Comp Zool 117(3): 367-424.
MacKay, W.P. and S.B. Vinson. 1989. “Evaluation of the spider Steatoda triangulosa (Araneae: Theridiidae) as a predator of the red imported fire ant (Hymenoptera: Formicidae),” J NY Entomol Soc 97: 232-233.
Moulder, Bennett. 1992. A Guide to the Common Spiders of Illinois. Springfield: Illinois State Museum Popular Science Series, vol. X. 125 pp.

10 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting this! We just spotted one of these spiders in a corner of a shelf, and were trying to research it. Great information, description and photos. Most of all, glad to know it is harmless. Looks like we will let this guest stay.

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  2. Thank you for the kind compliments! Please consider following my blog.

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  3. I love these spiders. I have a bunch in my house. They're so beautiful, like tiny golden orbs. Thanks for posting this information.

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  4. Could anyone tell me how big these spiders get in comparison to maybe a coin

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    1. Apologies for the late reply, I was offline for several days....The legspan of one of these spiders would not even cover a dime or a penny. They are quite small.

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    2. Females I would say would only reach 1/3 to 1/2 the size of a dime as a rough estimate, and males seem to be even smaller than that.

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  5. these spiders are funny. Ihave three that I am keeping as sort of pets. They are really neat to watch. I recently afound a yellkw sac of whom I added and watched the dynamics change in their environment.

    However out of the three triangulate cobweb spiders one is super super avgressive. why would that be?

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    1. Thank you for making the observations that you are. Unless all three spiders are in the same container, I do not know why one of them would be aggressive in its behavior.

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  6. As an electrician in Alabama I have encountered many of these spiders. When their web is disturbed, they tend to drop out of it. So wiggling around in a crawl space under a house it was not uncommon for me to end up with one of these little guys dropping down my shirt. I have been bitten a few times from them, but the pain is mild, and ends quickly after they stop biting.

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  7. I have a question. One morning I found six of these spiders (4 female 2 male) in my window. At first I was too afraid to do anything to kill them and by the time I was comfortable I had become like a voyeur. Just too invested in them lol. Not only were they seemingly good neighbors but the females almost seemed as though they would help one another or share. But maybe two months later I saw one female (by far the biggest female) was killing another. After that thing a were calm again until the last couple of days. The same female that attacked and killed earlier is now the only spider in the window that I can find. The females have clearly been killed as their bodies are all wrapped up and one is kind of discolored. The males are just nowhere to be seen. As embarrassed as I am to detail this out in a question to another human being, curiosity is stronger than the embarrassment. I have searched and searched for an answer to no avail. WHY would she suddenly do this? Is she maybe going to lay eggs or something? I just can't figure it out.

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