Anne, Stacey’s mother-in-law, sent the following email on 9 January 2011:
This spider was in my daughter’s driveway in Austin Texas. She thinks it is a tarantula. It was raining that morning so it doesn’t look very hairy. Would you identify it for us? Thank you
I wrote back immediately:
This is a trapdoor spider in the They are fairly common in Central Texas, but–because they spend most of their time in underground burrows–we rarely see them. Until, that is, it rains on a relatively cold day. Then the males come out and search about for females.
You may want to look at the articles I’ve posted of a similar spider found in Kempner, Bell County, TX; and one found in San Antonio, Bexar County, TX; and another found in Cedar Creek, Bastrop County, TX.
Other reports and photos have been sent to me from locations in Travis County, too, but the images associated with those reports were, for the most part, not of a quality suitable for publishing. Yours, on the other hand, are excellent photos, but the resolution–as provided in your email–is poor. From the file data embedded in your photos, it appears that you took them with a Canon Powershot 870 IS, which produces 8-megapixel images, so the original images are likely quite good. Is it possible to send me the higher resolution original images? If so, I will try to post yours sometime today. If by chance you took additional photos of this spider but decided not to send them, add them to the group. Sometimes seemingly unimportant details not obvious on one photo show up on another.
Anne forwarded my reply to Stacey, her daughter’s husband, who immediately sent me the full-resolution images, along with the following note:
My mother-in-law forwarded this to me. Here are the original photos, feel free to use them.
We just caught one the other day and plan to release it soon. We’ve seen a number of live ones this past week as well as a couple of dead ones in the neighborhood (78759 Austin)
Thanks so much for your help. Your website is very good!
The photos Stacey sent are posted here, after cropping and gently enhancing them to bring out some of the subtle details.
In the following narrative we will refer to anatomical characters that bear on its identity, as described by a number of authorities, including the key provided in Ubick 2005, p. 25-37. Major changes to the taxonomy of the Mygalomorph spiders have recently taken place that must be taken into account before we can arrive at a conclusion regarding this spider’s taxonomical identity. In fact, because we do not have definitive images of this specimen’s genitalia, and no effort was made to find and examine its burrows, arriving at a firm conclusion in this regard is practically impossible. Regardless, much can still be said about this spider.
The right palp of this spider, shown in the enlargement as well, is swollen, with a distal embolus that marks its sex distinctly.
As mentioned in my earlier postings on this family of Texas spiders, they are most often found wandering about after a cool rain, when the males leave their burrows in search of females. Not much else is known about them, however.
Willis J. Gertsch, in his 1979 (2nd Ed.) book “American Spiders,” devotes a number of pages (102-109) to discussions on the trapdoor spiders in general.
These spiders were first described by Patrick Browne, in 1756, who illustrated the nest of a West Indian species in his book “Civil and Natural History of Jamaica.”
Later, in 1873, J. Traherne Moggeridge published a number of well-researched studies on their habits, in which he distinguished between several types of trapdoor spider nests.
The first of these, which is characteristic of what today is often referred to as that of the true trapdoor spiders, was a simple tube closed with a thick, beveled door, labeled by Moggeridge as a “cork door.” The second, notably inferior to the former construction, was a simple tube closed with a thin “wafer” door, such as are found with the trapdoor spiders in the Cyrtaucheniidae family. The North American trap door spiders are, as a group, poorly understood. In particular, we do not know much about their choice of locations for their burrows, the precise construction of the wafer lids at the burrow entrance, or the dimensions of their burrows.
One of my goals is one day to take the time to spend a significant amount of time finding, documenting, and determining the architecture of the burrows used by various trapdoor spiders in Central Texas. The trick is to find a location where these spiders are being observed, and then diligently search about for the burrows themselves. Perhaps, though, I shall not have to wait long for photographs of such things. In my last message to Stacey I brazenly begged his assistance in this quest:
Thank you for these excellent photos. I will be posting them in the next couple of hours.
If you have an opportunity to take more of the specimen you captured, please do so. You might also consider releasing it near the spot where it was originally captured, to see if it returns to its lair or possibly finds the lair of a female to mate with.
Either case would be of great interest, if–for example–Stacey happens to take photos of the trapdoor through which the spider passes–that can be appended to the photos he already sent.
I’ve wanted to get some images of the actual lairs of these spiders but, alas, time has not yet permitted me to attend to that work with the diligence it demands.
Inasmuch as Stacey was curious enough to take these photos and to collect the spider to examine it more closely, it seems plausible enough that he might also be willing to release it in the manner described, and thereupon would take the time to follow it about to see where it ends its journey…
Of course, anyone who happens upon one of these spiders might give thought to doing the same thing: following it about, to see where it goes. Chances are it will find the door to a burrow inhabited by a female of its species, and — in the process of that find — the human observer can photograph its external features along with the entry of the male into the burrow underneath. I promise immediate posting of any such photos, should they come my way.
- Kingdom Animalia (an-uh-MAYHL-yuh) — first described in 1758 by the Swedish taxonomist Carolus Linnaeus (1707 – 1778), using the Latin word animal = “a living being,” from the Latin word anima = “vital breath”, to refer to multicellular, eukaryotic organisms whose body plans become fixed during development, some of which undergo additional processes of metamorphosis later in their lives; most of which are motile, and thus exhibit spontaneous and independent movements; and all of whom are heterotrophs that feed by ingesting other organisms or their products;
- Phylum Arthropoda (ahr-THROPP-uh-duh) — first described in 1829 by the French zoologist Pierre André Latreille (1762 – 1833), using the two Greek roots αρθρον (AR-thron) = jointed + ποδ (pawd) = foot, in an obvious reference to animals with jointed feet, but in the more narrow context of the invertebrates, which have segmented bodies as well as jointed appendages;
- Subphylum Chelicerata (Kuh-liss-uh-RAH-tah) — first described in 1901 by the German zoologist Richard Heymons (1867 – 1943) using the Greek noun χηλη (KEY-lay) = a claw, talon, or hoof + the Greek noun κερας (SAIR-as) = an animal’s horn + the Latin suffix ata — which by convention is suffixed to the names of animal subdivisions — to refer to animals that have specialized appendages before the mouth that they use in feeding, capturing and securing prey and that — in the case of spiders — are further equipped to inject venom and digestive agents into their prey;
- Class Arachnida (uh-RAKH-nuh-duh) — first described in 1812 by the French naturalist and zoologist Jean Léopold Nicolas Frédéric Cuvier (1769 – 1832), usually referred to as Georges Cuvier, using the Greek noun αραχης (uh-RAH-kes) = a spider, in reference to all eight-legged arthropods, including such disparate animals as ticks, mites, scorpions, harvestmen, solpugids, and spiders;
- Order Araneae (uh-RAY-neh-ee) — first described in 1757 by the Swedish entomologist and arachnologist Carl Alexander Clerck (1709 – 1765), who used the Latin word aranea = a spider or a spider’s web, to refer to eight legged arthropods that spin webs;
- Suborder Opisthothelae (oh-PIS-thoh-THEE-lee) — first described in 1990 by the American arachnologists Richard C. Brusca and Gary J. Brusca, who used the Greek words οπισθεν (oh-PIS-thehn) = behind, at the back, yet to come + θηλη (THEE-lee) = nipple or teat, to distinguish this grouping of spiders from the more primitive spiders in the suborder Mesothelae, in that certain characters (e.g., tergite plates, ganglia in the abdomen, and — in particular, inasmuch as the suborder name is a direct reference thereto — median-positioned spinnerets) of the latter are absent in the former; thus spiders in this suborder have spinnerets positioned at the hindmost portion of the abdomen;
- Infraorder Mygalomorphe (my-GAL-oh-MOHR-fee) — spiders with paraxial chelicerae and two pairs of book lungs, as in the more primitive Mesothelae, but without the latter’s tergite plates and most of the latter’s abdominal ganglia, and having their spinnerets positioned at the abdomen’s hindmost portion rather than mid-ventrally as in the Mesothelae; presently comprised of fifteen families:
- Atypidae (Thorell 1870) — 3 genera, 49 species (Platnick WSCv13.5); commonly known as purseweb spiders; 8-27 mm, yellow-brown to dark purple-black in color; the legs of male specimens of Sphodros rufipes (Latrielle 1829) and S. fitchi (Gertsch & Platnick 1980) are bright orange-red;
- Antrodiaetidae (Gertsch 1940) — 2 genera, 33 species (Platnick WSCv13.5); commonly known as foldingdoor, collardoor, or turret spiders (Antrodiaetus), and trapdoor spiders (Aliatypus); 6-26 mm, tan to chestnut brown, with one or more tergites on the anterodorsal abdomen; live in burrows with a flexible collar, a rigid turret, or a trapdoor at the mouth;
- Mecicobothriidae (Holmberg 1882) — 4 genera, 9 species (Platnick WSCv13.5); no common name; mygalomorphs with two tergites on their anterodorsal abdomen (these sclerotized patches may be fused); build sheet webs with silk tubes from sheet to ground that lead into hiding places under terrestrial objects;
- Hexathelidae (Simon 1892) — 12 genera, 112 species (Platnick WSCv13.5);
- Dipluridae (Simon 1889) — 24 genera, 179 species (Platnick WSCv13.5); commonly known as mygalomorph funnelweb spiders; 3.5-17 mm, pale tan to purple-brown in color; thoracic furrow in the form of a short longitudinal groove or a shallow pit or rounded depression;
- Cyrtaucheniidae (Simon 1889) — 10 genera, 102 species (Platnick WSCv13.5);
- Ctenizidae (Thorell 1887) — 9 genera, 128 species (Platnick WSCv13.5); no common name; 10-30 mm or more in length, tan, dark chestnut brown, and black in color; the females lack scopulae, but are equipped with a number of robust lateral digging spines on their pedipalps, as well as on the tarsus, metatarsus, and tibia of legs I and II; carapace generally glabrous, with few distinct spines; thoracic furrow is transverse, typically very deep and procurved; burrows are covered with a thick cork-type trapdoor for all genera, except Cyclosmia Ausserer 1871, which have wafer-type trapdoors;
- Euctenizidae (Raven 1985) — 7 genera, 33 species (Platnick WSCv13.5);
- Idiopidae (Simon 1889) — 22 genera, 314 species (Platnick WSCv13.5);
- Actinopodidae (Simon 1892) — 3 genera, 40 species (Platnick WSCv13.5);
- Migidae (Simon 1889) — 10 genera, 91 species (Platnick WSCv13.5);
- Nemesiidae (Simon 1889) — 43 genera, 364 species (Platnick WSCv13.5); 16-30 mm, golden brown to dark gray, generally concolorous but sometimes with an indistinct chevron pattern on the dorsal abdomen;
- Microstigmatidae (Roewer 1942) — 7 genera, 16 species (Platnick WSCv13.5);
- Barychelidae (Simon 1889) — 44 genera, 307 species (Platnick WSCv13.5);
- Theraphosidae (Thorell 1869) — 124 genera, 946 species (Platnick WSCv13.5);
- Paratropididae (Simon 1889) — 4 genera, 8 species (Platnick WSCv13.5);
- Family not presently determined;
- Genus not presently determined;
- Species not presently determined;
- Beccaloni, Jan. 2009. Arachnids. Univ. Calif. Press.
- Bond, Jason E. 1994. Seta-Spigot Homology and Silk Production in First Instar Antrodiaetus unicolor Spiderlings (Araneae: Antrodiaetidae). J. Arachnol., 22:19-22.
- Bond, J. E., and Platnick, N. I. (2007). A Taxonomic Review of the Trapdoor Spider Genus Myrmekiaphila (Araneae, Mygalomorphae, Cyrtaucheniidae). American Museum Novitates. Number 3596
- Coyle, Frederick A. 1983 . Aerial dispersal by mygalomorph spiderlings (Araneae, Mygalomorphae) . J. Arachnol., 11 :283-286.
- Coyle, Frederick A. and Wendell R. Icenogle. 1994. Natural History of the Californian Trapdoor Spider Genus Aliatypus (Araneae, Antrodiaetidae). J. Arachnol., 22:225-255.
- Coyle, Frederick A. 2005a. Antrodieaetidae. Ubick, et al., Spiders of North America, an Identification Manual, p. 39-40.
- Coyle, Frederick A. 2005b. Atypidae. Ubick, et al., Spiders of North America, an Identification Manual, p. 41-42.
- Comstock, John Henry. 1912. The spider book: a manual for the study of the spiders and their near relatives. University of Michigan.
- Emerton, James H. 1902. The Common Spiders of the United States. Kindle, hardcopy, and paperback editions.
- Foelix, Ranier F. 2011. Biology of Spiders, Third Ed. Oxford Univ. Press.
- Gertsch, Willis J., 1979. American spiders. Von Nostrand Reinhold Company.
- Hendrixson, Brent E., and Jason E. Bond. 2005a. Testing species boundaries in the Antrodiaetus unicolor complex (Araneae: Mygalomorphae: Antrodiaetidae): “Paraphyly” and cryptic diversity. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 36: 405–416.
- Hendrixson, Brent E., and Jason E. Bond. 2005b. Two sympatric species of Antrodiaetus from southwestern North Carolina (Araneae, Mygalomorphae, Antrodiaetidae). Zootaxa, 872: 1–19
- Herberstein, Marie Elisabeth (Ed.). 2011. Spider Behaviour: Flexibility and Versatility. Cambridge University Press.
- Howell, W. M., and R. L. Jenkins. 2004. Spiders of the Eastern United States: A Photographic Guide. Pearson Edu.
- Jackman, John A. 1999. A Field Guide to Spiders & Scorpions of Texas (Gulf Publishing Field Guide Series). Gulf Press.
- Kaston, B. J. 1978. How to know the spiders (The Pictured key nature series). WCB McGraw Hill.
- Levi, Herbert W., and Lorna Levi. 1987. Spiders and Their Kin (Golden Guide). Golden Press, New York.
- Paquin, Pierre, and Nadine Dupérré. 2003. Guide d’identification des Araignées (Araneae) du Québec. Association des entomologistes amateurs du Québec, p. 50.
- Platnick, Norman I. 2011a. The World Spider Catalog, V. 13.5; CURRENTLY VALID SPIDER GENERA AND SPECIES (Dec. 13, 2012). American Museum of Natural History.
- Preston-Mafham, Rod. 1996. The Book of Spiders and Scorpions. Barnes & Noble.
- Ubick, Darrell, and Pierre Paquin, Paula E. Cushing, V. Roth (Editors). 2005, Spiders of North America: An Identification Manual. American Arachnological Society.
- Vincent, Leonard S. 1993. The Natural History of the California Turret Spider Atypoides riversi (Araneae, Antrodiaetidae): Demographics, Growth Rates, Survivorship, and Longevity. J. Arachnol., 21:29-39.
- Wagner, James D., et al. 2003. Spatial Stratification in Litter Depth by Forest-Floor Spiders. J. Arachnol., 31:28-39.
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