Trap Door Spider Biology

Insects and arthropods are some of the most diverse creatures on the planet and have developed a number of clever techniques for hunting and survival. From butterflies that have evolved mimicry patterns to avoid detection to the blister beetle that literally shoots poison at its enemies, insects and arthropods are always developing cool tricks to deal with the evolutionary jungle.

 Trap door spiders (Family: Ctenizidae) are a group of spiders that have developed a unique method of hunting. They create trap doors in the ground to catch unsuspecting prey that happens to wander by. Read on to learn more about this intelligent group of hunting spiders.

trap door spider
Credit: B. Dupont via WikiCommons CC-BY-SA 2.0

A Clever Hunter

Trap door spiders consist of a diverse group of spiders that populate Europe, Asia, and South America. These spiders are known for their insanely smart hunting techniques. Trap door spiders will create a small “trapdoor” of dirt and plant material that is hinged on one side with silk.

 From there, the spider lays in wait until some unsuspecting critter happens to wander nearby. When the prey disturbs the silk “trip” lines, they then leap out of their burrows to capture their dinner.

 Trapdoor spiders are unique because, unlike other types of spiders, they do not make webs to catch their food. Instead, they rely on trickery and their fast reflexes to hunt prey. Trap door spiders are voracious hunters and are known to eat insects, other spiders, baby birds, snakes, and even smaller mammals such as mice.

trap door spider
Credit: J Fagerholm via WikiCommons CC-BY 3.0

Trap door spiders also exhibit specialized characteristics that reflect their hunting patterns. Most species have modified chelicerae (“teeth”) that they use for burrowing and digging tunnels. They also have specially modified front legs (called pedipalps) that allow them to sense vibrations and grapple their prey. 

 Generally speaking, trap door spiders are nocturnal. Both males and females display these hunting patterns but females usually stay close to their burrows so they can tend to their young. They usually measure about 2.5 centimeters from head to abdomen, although some species can grow to be several inches long. Trap door spiders can also run very quickly, a necessary skill as they spend most of their time on the ground.

Many species of trap door spiders are venomous though some species are not. They are generally not aggressive to humans but can deliver a nasty bite if they are disturbed or frightened.

 Trap door spiders usually live anywhere from 5-20 years, which is a very long lifespan for a spider. They spend most of their life underground and have a prolonged maturation period. When young spiderlings mature, they eventually venture out of their nests to make their own burrows, hunt for food, and find partners to mate with.

 Overall, there are 50 distinct identified species of trap door spider. They are relatively rare as they do not come out to the surface very often, and many species are at risk of extinction due to habitat destruction.

 Spiders are some of the most unique and diverse creatures on the planet. The hunting prowess of trap door spiders is just another testament to the engineering ingenuity of evolution.

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