Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Spider


Although humans and arthropods have been living and evolving together for all of our history, we know very little about the arthropods we share our homes with apart from major pest groups. Here we surveyed, for the first time, the complete arthropod fauna of the indoor biome in 50 houses (located in and around Raleigh, North Carolina, USA). We discovered high diversity, with a conservative estimate range of 32-211 morphospecies, and 24-128 distinct arthropod families per house. The majority of this indoor diversity (73%) was made up of true flies (Diptera), spiders (Araneae), beetles (Coleoptera), and wasps and kin (Hymenoptera, especially ants: Formicidae). Much of the arthropod diversity within houses did not consist of synanthropic species, but instead included arthropods that were filtered from the surrounding landscape. As such, common pest species were found less frequently than benign species. Some of the most frequently found arthropods in houses, such as gall midges (Cecidomyiidae) and book lice (Liposcelididae), are unfamiliar to the general public despite their ubiquity. These findings present a new understanding of the diversity, prevalence, and distribution of the arthropods in our daily lives. Considering their impact as household pests, disease vectors, generators of allergens, and facilitators of the indoor microbiome, advancing our knowledge of the ecology and evolution of arthropods in homes has major economic and human health implications.

Concepts: Evolution, Nematocera, Insect, Arthropod, Flies, Ant, Spider, Pterygota


Spiders have been suspected to be one of the most important groups of natural enemies of insects worldwide. To document the impact of the global spider community as insect predators, we present estimates of the biomass of annually killed insect prey. Our estimates assessed with two different methods suggest that the annual prey kill of the global spider community is in the range of 400-800 million metric tons (fresh weight), with insects and collembolans composing >90% of the captured prey. This equals approximately 1‰ of the global terrestrial net primary production. Spiders associated with forests and grasslands account for >95% of the annual prey kill of the global spider community, whereas spiders in other habitats are rather insignificant contributors over a full year. The spider communities associated with annual crops contribute less than 2% to the global annual prey kill. This, however, can be partly explained by the fact that annual crop fields are “disturbed habitats” with a low buildup of spider biomass and that agrobiont spiders often only kill prey over short time periods in a year. Our estimates are supported by the published results of exclusion experiments, showing that the number of herbivorous/detritivorous insects and collembolans increased significantly after spider removal from experimental plots. The presented estimates of the global annual prey kill and the relative contribution of spider predation in different biomes improve the general understanding of spider ecology and provide a first assessment of the global impact of this very important predator group.

Concepts: Insect, Arthropod, Predation, Ecology, Lion, Biological pest control, Aposematism, Spider


Spiders are an important animal group, with a long history. Details of their origins remain limited, with little knowledge of their stem group, and no insights into the sequence of character acquisition during spider evolution. We describe a new fossil arachnid,Idmonarachne brasierigen. et sp. nov. from the Late Carboniferous (Stephanian,ca305-299 Ma) of Montceau-les-Mines, France. It is three-dimensionally preserved within a siderite concretion, allowing both laboratory- and synchrotron-based phase-contrast computed tomography reconstruction. The latter is a first for siderite-hosted fossils and has allowed us to investigate fine anatomical details. Although distinctly spider-like in habitus, this remarkable fossil lacks a key diagnostic character of Araneae: spinnerets on the underside of the opisthosoma. It also lacks a flagelliform telson found in the recently recognized, spider-related, Devonian-Permian Uraraneida. Cladistic analysis resolves our new fossil as sister group to the spiders: the spider stem-group comprises the uraraneids andI. brasieri While we are unable to demonstrate the presence of spigots in this fossil, the recovered phylogeny suggests the earliest character to evolve on the spider stem-group is the secretion of silk. This would have been followed by the loss of a flagelliform telson, and then the ability to spin silk using spinnerets. This last innovation defines the true spiders, significantly post-dates the origins of silk, and may be a key to the group’s success. The Montceau-les-Mines locality has previously yielded a mesothele spider (with spinnerets). Evidently, Late Palaeozoic spiders lived alongside Palaeozoic arachnid grades which approached the spider condition, but did not express the full suite of crown-group autapomorphies.

Concepts: Arthropod, Phylogenetics, Clade, Phylum, Arachnid, Spider, Chelicerata, Tarantula


In this paper more than 50 incidences of bats being captured by spiders are reviewed. Bat-catching spiders have been reported from virtually every continent with the exception of Antarctica (∼90% of the incidences occurring in the warmer areas of the globe between latitude 30° N and 30° S). Most reports refer to the Neotropics (42% of observed incidences), Asia (28.8%), and Australia-Papua New Guinea (13.5%). Bat-catching spiders belong to the mygalomorph family Theraphosidae and the araneomorph families Nephilidae, Araneidae, and Sparassidae. In addition to this, an attack attempt by a large araneomorph hunting spider of the family Pisauridae on an immature bat was witnessed. Eighty-eight percent of the reported incidences of bat catches were attributable to web-building spiders and 12% to hunting spiders. Large tropical orb-weavers of the genera Nephila and Eriophora in particular have been observed catching bats in their huge, strong orb-webs (of up to 1.5 m diameter). The majority of identifiable captured bats were small aerial insectivorous bats, belonging to the families Vespertilionidae (64%) and Emballonuridae (22%) and usually being among the most common bat species in their respective geographic area. While in some instances bats entangled in spider webs may have died of exhaustion, starvation, dehydration, and/or hyperthermia (i.e., non-predation death), there were numerous other instances where spiders were seen actively attacking, killing, and eating the captured bats (i.e., predation). This evidence suggests that spider predation on flying vertebrates is more widespread than previously assumed.

Concepts: Bat, Spider, Mygalomorphae, Microbat, Orb-weaver spider, Tarantula, Araneomorphae, Vesper bat


Spiders (Order Araneae) are massively abundant generalist arthropod predators that are found in nearly every ecosystem on the planet and have persisted for over 380 million years. Spiders have long served as evolutionary models for studying complex mating and web spinning behaviors, key innovation and adaptive radiation hypotheses, and have been inspiration for important theories like sexual selection by female choice. Unfortunately, past major attempts to reconstruct spider phylogeny typically employing the “usual suspect” genes have been unable to produce a well-supported phylogenetic framework for the entire order. To further resolve spider evolutionary relationships we have assembled a transcriptome-based data set comprising 70 ingroup spider taxa. Using maximum likelihood and shortcut coalescence-based approaches, we analyze eight data sets, the largest of which contains 3,398 gene regions and 696,652 amino acid sites forming the largest phylogenomic analysis of spider relationships produced to date. Contrary to long held beliefs that the orb web is the crowning achievement of spider evolution, ancestral state reconstructions of web type support a phylogenetically ancient origin of the orb web, and diversification analyses show that the mostly ground-dwelling, web-less RTA clade diversified faster than orb weavers. Consistent with molecular dating estimates we report herein, this may reflect a major increase in biomass of non-flying insects during the Cretaceous Terrestrial Revolution 125-90 million years ago favoring diversification of spiders that feed on cursorial rather than flying prey. Our results also have major implications for our understanding of spider systematics. Phylogenomic analyses corroborate several well-accepted high level groupings: Opisthothele, Mygalomorphae, Atypoidina, Avicularoidea, Theraphosoidina, Araneomorphae, Entelegynae, Araneoidea, the RTA clade, Dionycha and the Lycosoidea. Alternatively, our results challenge the monophyly of Eresoidea, Orbiculariae, and Deinopoidea. The composition of the major paleocribellate and neocribellate clades, the basal divisions of Araneomorphae, appear to be falsified. Traditional Haplogynae is in need of revision, as our findings appear to support the newly conceived concept of Synspermiata. The sister pairing of filistatids with hypochilids implies that some peculiar features of each family may in fact be synapomorphic for the pair. Leptonetids now are seen as a possible sister group to the Entelegynae, illustrating possible intermediates in the evolution of the more complex entelegyne genitalic condition, spinning organs and respiratory organs.

Concepts: Evolution, Insect, Phylogenetic nomenclature, Phylogenetic tree, Phylogenetics, Cladistics, Spider, Araneomorphae


The role of predators in food webs extends beyond their ability to kill and consume prey. Such trait-mediated effects occur when signals of the predator influence the behaviour of other animals. Because all spiders are silk-producing carnivores, we hypothesized that silk alone would signal other arthropods and enhance non-lethal effects of spiders. We quantified the herbivory inflicted by two beetle species on green bean plants (Phaseolus vulgaris) in the presence of silkworm silk and spider silk along with no silk controls. Single leaflets were treated and enclosed with herbivores in the laboratory and field. Another set of leaflets were treated and left to experience natural herbivory in the field. Entire plants in the field were treated with silk and enclosed with herbivores or left exposed to herbivory. In all cases, the lowest levels of herbivory occurred with spider silk treatments and, in general, silkworm silk produced intermediate levels of leaf damage. These results suggest that silk may be a mechanism for the trait-mediated impacts of spiders and that it might contribute to integrated pest management programmes.

Concepts: Insect, Predation, Animal, Arachnid, Silk, Spider, Common bean, Bean


Black widow spiders (members of the genus Latrodectus) are widely feared because of their potent neurotoxic venom. α-Latrotoxin is the vertebrate-specific toxin responsible for the dramatic effects of black widow envenomation. The evolution of this toxin is enigmatic because only two α-latrotoxin sequences are known. In this study, ~4 kb α-latrotoxin sequences and their homologs were characterized from a diversity of Latrodectus species, and representatives of Steatoda and Parasteatoda, establishing the wide distribution of latrotoxins across the mega-diverse spider family Theridiidae. Across black widow species, α-latrotoxin shows ≥ 94% nucleotide identity and variability consistent with purifying selection. Multiple codon and branch-specific estimates of the nonsynonymous/ synonymous substitution rate ratio also suggest a long history of purifying selection has acted on α-latrotoxin across Latrodectus and Steatoda. However, α-latrotoxin is highly divergent in amino acid sequence between these genera, with 68.7% of protein differences involving non-conservative substitutions, evidence for positive selection on its physiochemical properties and particular codons, and an elevated rate of nonsynonymous substitutions along α-latrotoxin’s Latrodectus branch. Such variation likely explains the efficacy of red-back spider, L. hasselti, antivenom in treating bites from other Latrodectus species, and the weaker neurotoxic symptoms associated with Steatoda and Parasteatoda bites. Long-term purifying selection on α-latrotoxin indicates its functional importance in black widow venom, even though vertebrates are a small fraction of their diet. The greater differences between Latrodectus and Steatoda α-latrotoxin, and their relationships to invertebrate-specific latrotoxins, suggest a shift in α-latrotoxin towards increased vertebrate toxicity coincident with the evolution of widow spiders.

Concepts: Toxin, Spider, Spider bite, Black Widow, Latrodectus, Katipo, Black widow spider, Redback spider


Australian funnel-web spiders are generally considered the most dangerous spiders in the world, with envenomations from the Sydney funnel-web spider Atrax robustus resulting in at least 14 human fatalities prior to the introduction of an effective anti-venom in 1980. The clinical envenomation syndrome resulting from bites by Australian funnel-web spiders is due to a single 42-residue peptide known as δ-hexatoxin. This peptide delays the inactivation of voltage-gated sodium channels, which results in spontaneous repetitive firing and prolongation of action potentials, thereby causing massive neurotransmitter release from both somatic and autonomic nerve endings. Here we show that δ-hexatoxin from the Australian funnel-web spider Hadronyche versuta is produced from an intronless gene that encodes a prepropeptide that is post-translationally processed to yield the mature toxin. A limited sampling of genes encoding unrelated venom peptides from this spider indicated that they are all intronless. Thus, in distinct contrast to cone snails and scorpions, whose toxin genes contain introns, spiders may have developed a quite different genetic strategy for evolving their venom peptidome.

Concepts: Protein, Spider, Antivenom, Sydney funnel-web spider, Hexathelidae, Australian funnel-web spider, Spider bite, Venomous spiders


While foraging theory predicts that predatory responses should be determined by the energy content and size of prey, it is becoming increasingly clear that carnivores regulate their intake of specific nutrients. We tested the hypothesis that prey nutrient composition and predator nutritional history affects foraging intensity, consumption, and prey selection by the wolf spider, Pardosa milvina. By altering the rearing environment for fruit flies, Drosophila melanogaster, we produced high quality flies containing more nitrogen and protein and less lipid than low quality fruit flies. In one experiment, we quantified the proportion of flies taken and consumption across a range of densities of either high or low quality flies and, in a second experiment, we determined the prey capture and consumption of spiders that had been maintained on contrasting diets prior to testing. In both cases, the proportion of prey captured declined with increasing prey density, which characterizes the Type II functional response that is typical of wolf spiders. Spiders with similar nutritional histories killed similar numbers of each prey type but consumed more of the low quality prey. Spiders provided high quality prey in the weeks prior to testing killed more prey than those on the low quality diet but there was no effect of prior diet on consumption. In the third experiment, spiders were maintained on contrasting diets for three weeks and then allowed to select from a mixture of high and low quality prey. Interestingly, feeding history affected prey preferences: spiders that had been on a low quality diet showed no preference but those on the high quality diet selected high quality flies from the mixture. Our results suggest that, even when prey size and species identity are controlled, the nutritional experience of the predator as well as the specific content of the prey shapes predator-prey interactions.

Concepts: Insect, Predation, Lotka–Volterra equation, Drosophila, Optimal foraging theory, Spider, Carnivore, Wolf spider


Correlated evolution of traits can act synergistically to facilitate organism function. But, what happens when constraints exist on the evolvability of some traits, but not others? The orb web was a key innovation in the origin of >12,000 species of spiders. Orb evolution hinged upon the origin of novel spinning behaviors and innovations in silk material properties. In particular, a new major ampullate spidroin protein (MaSp2) increased silk extensibility and toughness, playing a critical role in how orb webs stop flying insects. Here, we show convergence between pseudo-orb-weaving Fecenia and true orb spiders. As in the origin of true orbs, Fecenia dragline silk improved significantly compared to relatives. But, Fecenia silk lacks the high compliance and extensibility found in true orb spiders, likely due in part to the absence of MaSp2. Our results suggest how constraints limit convergent evolution and provide insight into the evolution of nature’s toughest fibers.

Concepts: Evolution, Organism, Insect, Materials science, Spider silk, Spider, Spider web, Orb-weaver spider