A Trapdoor Spider in Mobile, Alabama

BugsInTheNews is a VIEWER-PARTICIPANT WEBSITE. This article by Jerry Cates and Jeannette H., first published on 22 March 2011, was revised last on 7 July 2012. © Bugsinthenews Vol. 12:03(01)


Myrmekiaphila trapdoor spider; male, dorsum; Jeannette H., Mobile AL --- 10 Mar 2011

Myrmekiaphila trapdoor spider; male, dorsum; Jeannette H., Mobile AL --- 10 Mar 2011

Jeannette wrote me on 10 March 2011 with the following:

I found a spider that looks very much like one on your site in my bathroom this morning.

This is the one on your site:


And I am emailing a picture of the one I found.  Sorry for such a huge picture, but it is clearer larger.

We live in Mobile, Alabama.

This spider was playing dead under the bath mat.

I thought it was dead, so I scooped it up onto a paper plate to take a picture of it next to a quarter.

When I tried to flip it over to take a picture of the other side of it, it sprang it’s legs out and started running all over the place.

I panicked and smashed it as you can see.  It was quite large!

Can you tell me if it is the same kind of spider?



Myrmekiaphila trapdoor spider; male, smashed body parts; Jeannette H., Mobile AL --- 10 Mar 2011

Myrmekiaphila trapdoor spider; male, smashed body parts; Jeannette H., Mobile AL --- 10 Mar 2011

My reply to Jeannette confirmed that her spider was almost certainly a trapdoor spider, but the remains would have to be examined under the microscope in order to proceed to a more specific identification.

If she still had the spider (a long shot, as most would be inclined to flush it down the drain after taking the photos), would she be willing to send it to me?

She replied that she’d thrown the remains into a waste basket but would retrieve them, package them up, and send them on.

A few days later the envelope arrived, about 1/4th inch thick, with a padded center of folded napkin that contained what was left of the poor critter. A photo of the smashed spider, taken by Jeannette shortly after killing it, is shown at left.

Despite the mangled nature of the remains wrapped in the napkin, it was possible to quickly identify the spider to genus (Myrmekiaphila), and — on further analysis, and after reviewing the materials published in a paper by Bond & Platnick (2007) on the taxonomy of spiders in the genus Myrmekiaphila — to species (M. neilyoungi) as well.

A considerable number of photos have been taken under the microscope of the spider’s morphological characters. Those photos will be added to this posting as time permits.

The trapdoor spiders are not well known as they are normally hidden from view in their underground burrows.

Our knowledge about them is sorely lacking, but we can improve our knowledge if people like Jeannette are willing to provide specimens to work with.

My thanks to her for being so diligent, and for being curious enough to find my article on the trapdoor spider found in Cresson, Texas.



  • 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 Euctenizidae (yook-tun-EYE-zuh-dee) — elevating the genus Eucteniza to familial status was first proposed in 1985 by the Australian arachnologist Robert John Raven, whose argument was later reinforced by phylogenetic analyses conducted by Goloboff (1993) and Bond & Opell (2002);
  • Genus Myrmekiaphila (mur-MECK-ee-uh-FYE-luh) — first named in 1886 by George Francis Atkinson, an agricultural botanist whose work led him to study the ant fauna inhabiting cultivated farmland; he found specimens of these spiders closely associated with ant nests in the soil; thus the generic name he applied to them, having as its prefix the Greek μυρμεξ, myrme(x), “ant,” and the Greek suffix φιλος, philo(s), “loving,” was intended to mean “(one that) loves ants.”
  • Species neilyoungi (neel-YUNG-guy) — first described in 2007 by the American arachnologists Jason Bond (professor of biology, East Carolina University) and Norman Platnick (curator, American Museum of Natural History); the specific name was selected by Jason Bond in honor of his favorite musician, Neil Young; this spider is widespread in Alabama, as well as in the western portion of the panhandle of Florida;




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Your spider is definitely a trapdoor spider, and because it has megaspines on the tibias of both legs I and II, it appears to be in the Cyrtaucheniidae family, and the genus Eucteniza. That’s interesting, as we’re not finding these outside of Texas, so possibly what appear to be megaspines on the legs would be something else when examined under the microscope. Too bad you couldn’t get the ventral shot; it would have told us a lot about its identity. If you still have the spider (I don’t expect you to, as you were most likely inclined to flush it down the drain after taking the photos), I can learn a bit from it if you pickle it in alcohol and send it to me.
If the remains are long gone, no problem… but you will likely see more of these over time (they are not dangerous, though they will bite if handled, and the bite can be a mite painful at first). If you see any more, capture them in a glass jar for me. And if you are a curious sort, and willing to hunt for them in your yard (this was a male, and probably came out after a cool rain, to look for females), you will probably find their burrows and may be able to collect a few for us to study in the lab.
The trapdoor spiders are not well known as they are normally hidden from view in their underground burrows. Our knowledge about them is sorely lacking, but we can improve our knowledge if people like you help us out by providing specimens to work with.

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