Sunday, November 4, 2012

Spider Sunday: A Common "Indoor" Spider

At this time of year, there is one spider that is commonly encountered indoors in the eastern United States and southeast Canada. It has a bi-colored body that makes it conspicuous and different from most other spiders one is likely to see around their residence. Trachelas tranquillus, is sometimes known as the “Broad-faced Sac Spider,” a member of the family Corinnidae.

This is a spider of average size, adult females measuring 7-10 millimeters in body length, males 5-6 millimeters. It occurs from Nova Scotia and Minnesota south to Kansas, Oklahoma, and northern Georgia, preferring deciduous woodlands. In nature, specimens are often found in retreats fashioned from curled leaves; or they are seen occasionally under stones.

I have seen this species hunting actively at night, prowling around porch lights where it may be hunting various insects attracted there. Trachelas does not spin a web, but does lay down draglines to help secure itself during climbs. Females probably also impregnate their draglines with pheromones (scents) so that males can track them down.

© Ken Lebo 2012

Mating usually happens in summer and early fall, after both genders have matured (nice images on the highlighted link). Females create a lens-shaped egg sac, the bottom flat against a substrate and the top slightly convex. The whole package is roughly ten millimeters long and usually attached beneath loose bark, or under a rock.

Besides killing live prey, Trachelas may scavenge on dead insects. Perhaps this is why it prospers when other spiders have either perished or gone into hiding in autumn. This scavenging habit may also influence the outcome in those rare instances when the spider bites a human. Secondary infections from its bite have been recorded, originally interpreted incorrectly as caused by the spider’s venom.

© Sarah Rose

The fact that Trachelas hunts regularly in and around homes and other buildings means it is more likely to have interaction with people. Still, verified cases of bites are infrequent, and usually result in only localized pain and swelling. People sensitive to arthropod venoms, or prone to allergic reactions, should seek medical attention for any arachnid bite (or sting in the case of scorpions).

Further complicating this picture is the confusion of Trachelas with another spider that is completely innocuous, though more intimidating. The Woodlouse Hunter, Dysdera crocata, is a specialized predator of woodlice, known commonly as “sowbugs,” “roly-polies,” or “pillbugs.” This species has exceptionally long jaws and fangs it uses to turn over its armored prey. While it looks dangerous, it is not.

Dysdera crocata © Nick Richter 2010

Dysdera is not native to North America, having been introduced from Europe at some point in our history. It has also become accustomed to prowling around human dwellings, so may be found indoors. It does not climb as well as Trachelas, however, and in my experience the Woodlouse Hunter prefers to hug baseboards.

Dysdera crocata © Sarah Rose

I encourage my readers to appreciate all spiders, but also act responsibly. It is a good idea to try and exclude spiders from entering your home and workplace by repairing worn weatherstripping on doors, mending holes in window screens, and sealing any cracks and crevices that could offer passage for insects and arachnids. Be careful when bringing objects indoors from outside, too, like firewood, gardening implements, children’s toys, and shoes and clothing left outdoors overnight.

Sources: Cox, Shelly. 2011. “Ground Sac Spider,” MoBugs blog.
Eaton, Eric R. and Amanda Howe. 2012. “Trachelas tranquillus (Ground Sac Spider),”
Jacobs, Steve. 2002. ”Broad-faced Sac Spider,” Penn State University fact sheet.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you, Michelle! Remember, you can e-mail me any images of "mystery bugs" and I'll do a write-up here. Bugeric24ATyahooDOTcom.

  2. Yes thank you very much! My son (4 years) just found one. Fortunately we've trained him well, he came and told me right away.

  3. THANK YOU!!!! I found not one, BUT TWO Dysdera Crocata in my bed. I thought it was an Eric. I released them FAR FAR away from the house. :)

  4. Thank you for all your info on the Trachelas tranquillus! I am currently suffering from a secondary infection (cellulitis) due to four or so bites on my ankle from one of these. (I think it was in my covers the other night.) I woke up the other morning with a fever of 103.6 and my leg was red and swollen. I didn't know what kind of spider bit me until I saw one in the living room that my 3 year old promptly squished, and one in the kitchen that I captured to find out what kind it was. I never thought much about these spiders because they aren't poisonous; but now that I have this crazy skin infection I think I'll be a little more cautious! Also, we have had a LOT of rain here lately so I'm guessing that's what's driving them inside? Either way, I plan on going around my house and making sure all points of entry are spider proof!!!!

    1. Christie: Get well soon! Infections are nothing to mess with....In the absence of a spider under the bed linens, or witnessed in the act of biting, I would be hesitant to conclude that you were bitten by a spider. Many other illnesses can produce symptoms that mimic an insect or spider bite and we are generally too quick to jump to conclusions. Do take care, heal quickly.

  5. Saw one of these this morning just outside my patio door (where the light is). It panicked and dropped down on a web line when the dogs and I went out the door, so I could see the legs very clearly. I thought it was a very pretty spider with those red legs. I have what I call the "Spider House Rules"--if you area a spider, and you come in the house, you die. I tend to leave the outdoor ones alone except for taking down their webs where I will walk through them. Anyway, this post was very helpful; it's only 7:45 and I've already achieved my goal of learning something new every day.

    1. Thank you so much for the compliment, and for sharing your experience. "Spider House Rules." Love it!

  6. Hi! i recently captured one of these in my house and im keeping it as a pet, took a while to figure out what it was because it just sits under a leaf all day. My question is what do i feed it? i gave it some poll bugs but it doesnt seem to attack them just gets more annoyed then anything (maybe because the lights are on?) and i have a cap in its cage with water in it, is this a good source? thanks

    1. Often, newly-captured creatures will not eat due to stress....but a small cricket or other soft-bodied insect should be acceptable in a few days....Water needs to be provided in a sponge pad or cotton ball or something so the spider won't drown. Good luck.