Webs: All spiders produce silk, a thin, strong protein strand extruded by the spider from spinnerets most commonly found on the end of the abdomen. Many species use it to trap insects in webs, although there are many species that hunt freely. Silk can be used to aid in climbing, form smooth walls for burrows, build egg sacs, wrap prey, and temporarily hold sperm, among other applications.
Venom: All but about 150 species of spiders (in the families Uloboridae and Holarchaeidae, and the suborder Mesothelae) can inject venom to protect themselves or to kill and liquefy prey. Only up to 200 species, however, have bites that can pose health problems to humans. Many larger species' bites may be painful, but will not produce lasting health concerns.
Morphology: Spiders, unlike insects, have only two body segments (tagmata) instead of three: a fused head and thorax (called a cephalothorax or prosoma) and an abdomen (called the opisthosoma). The exception to this rule are the assassin spiders, whose cephalothorax seems to be almost divided into two independent units. Except for a few species of very primitive spiders (family Liphistiidae), the abdomen is not externally segmented. The abdomen and cephalothorax are connected with a thin waist called the pedicle or the pregenital somite, a trait that allows the spider to move the abdomen in all directions. This waist is actually the last segment (somite) of the cephalothorax and is lost in most other members of the Arachnida (in scorpions it is only detectable in the embryos).
Legs and eyes: All spiders have eight legs, althoug a few ant-mimicking species use their front legs to imitate antennae, which spiders lack. Their eyes are single lenses rather than compound eyes, ranging from simple light/dark-receptors to eyes rivalling that of a pigeon (some jumping spiders).
Palps: They have pedipalps (or just palps), at the base of which are coxae or maxillae next to their mouth that aid in ingesting food; the ends of the palp are modified in adult males into elaborate and often species-specific structures used for mating. Since they don't have any antennae, they are using specialised and sensitive hairs on their legs to pick up scent, sounds, vibrations and air currents.
Mouth: Because they can't chew their food, they have, like other arachnids, a tiny mouth they use as a short drinking straw to suck up the liquid parts of their prey. However they are able to eat their own silk.
Eyes: Spiders usually have eight eyes in various arrangements, a fact which is used to aid in taxonomically classifying different species. Most species of the Haplogynae have six eyes, although some have eight (Plectreuridae), four (eg., Tetrablemma) or even two (most Caponiidae) eyes. Sometimes one pair of eyes is better developed than the rest, or even, in some cave species, there are no eyes at all. Several families of hunting spiders, such as jumping spiders and wolf spiders, have fair to excellent vision. The main pair of eyes in jumping spiders even sees in colors. Net-casting spiders have enormous, compound lenses that give a wide field of view and gather available light very efficiently.
Other senses: However, most spiders that lurk on flowers, webs, and other fixed locations waiting for prey tend to have very poor eyesight; instead they possess an extreme sensitivity to vibrations, which aids in prey capture. Vibration sensitive spiders can sense vibrations from such various mediums as the water surface, the soil or their silk threads. Also changes in the air pressure can be detected in the search for prey.
Circulation: Spiders have an open circulatory system; i.e., they do not have true blood, or veins to convey it. Rather, their bodies are filled with haemolymph, which is pumped through arteries by a heart into spaces called sinuses surrounding their internal organs.
Respiration: Spiders have developed several different respiratory anatomies, based either on book lungs, a tracheal system, or both. Mygalomorph and Mesothelae spiders have two pairs of book lungs filled with haemolymph, where openings on the ventral surface of the abdomen allow air to enter and diffuse oxygen. This is also the case for some basal araneomorph spiders like the family Hypochilidae, but the remaining members of this group have just the anterior pair of book lungs intact while the posterior pair of breathing organs are partly or fully modified into tracheae, through which oxygen is diffused into the haemolymph or directly to the tissue and organs. This system has most likely evolved in small ancestors to help resist desiccation. The trachea were originally connected to the surroundings through a pair of spiracles, but in the majority of spiders this pair of spiracles has fused into a single one in the middle, and migrated posterior close to the spinnerets.
Among smaller araneomorph spiders we can find species who have evolved also the anterior pair of book lungs into trachea, or the remaining book lungs are simply reduced or missing, and in a very few the book lungs have developed deep channels, apparently signs of evolution into tracheae. Some very small spiders in moist and sheltered habitats don't have any breathing organs at all, as they are breathing directly through their body surface. In the tracheal system oxygen interchange is much more efficient, enabling cursorial hunting (hunting involving extended pursuit) and other advanced characteristics as having a smaller heart and the ability to live in dryer habitats.
Digestion: Digestion is carried out internally and externally. Spiders that do not have powerful chelicerae secrete digestive fluids into their prey from a series of ducts perforating their chelicerae. These digestive fluids dissolve the prey's internal tissues. Then the spider feeds by sucking the partially digested fluids out. Other spiders with more powerfully built chelicerae masticate the entire body of their prey and leave behind only a relatively small glob of indigestible materials. Spiders consume only liquid foods. Many spiders will store prey temporarily. Web weaving spiders that have made a shroud of silk to quiet their envenomed prey's death struggles will generally leave them in these shrouds and then consume them at their leisure.
Spinnerets: The abdomen has no appendages except from one to four (usually three) modified pairs of movable telescoping organs called spinnerets, which produce silk. The suborder Mesothelae is unique in having only two types of silk glands - thought to be the ancestral condition. All other spiders have the spinnerets further towards the posterior end of the body where they form a small cluster, and the anterior central spinnerets on the tenth segment are lost or reduced (suborder Mygalomorphae), or modified into a specialised and flattened plate called the cribellum (parts of suborder Araneomorphae), which produces a thread made up of hundreds to thousands of very fine dry silk fibers resulting in a woolly structure that traps prey. The cribellate spiders were the first spiders to build specialised prey catching webs. Later some groups evolved (called ecribellate) that use silk threads dotted with sticky droplets to capture prey ranging from small arthropods to sometimes even small bats and birds.
Life cycle: The spider life cycle progresses through three stages: the embryonic, the larval, and the nympho-imaginal.
Embryonic stage: The time between when an egg is fertilized and when the spider begins to take the shape of an adult spider is referred to as the embryonic stage. As the spider enters the larval stage, it begins to look more and more like an adult spider.
Larval stage: It enters the larval stage as a prelarva and, through subsequent moults, reaches its larval form, a spider-shaped animal feeding off its yolk supply. After a few more moults (also called instars) body structures become differentiated. Soon, all organ systems are complete and the animal begins to hunt on its own; it has reached the nympho-imaginal stage.
Nympho-imaginal stage: This stage is differentiated into two sub-stages: the nymph, or juvenile stage and the imago, or adult stage. A spider does not become sexually mature until it makes the transition from nymph to imago. Once a spider has reached the imago stage, it will remain there until its death. After sexual maturity is reached, the general rule is that they stop moulting, but the females of some non-araneomorph species will continue to moult the rest of their lives.
Life span: Many spiders may only live for about a year, but a number will live two years or more, overwintering in sheltered areas. The annual influx of 'outdoor' spiders into houses in the fall is due to this search for a warm place to spend the winter. It is common for tarantulas to live around twenty years.
Reproduction: Spiders reproduce by means of eggs, which are packed into silk bundles called egg sacs. Spiders often use elaborate mating rituals (especially in the visually advanced jumping spiders) to allow conspecifics to identify each other and to allow the male to approach and inseminate the female without triggering a predatory response. If the approach signals are exchanged correctly, the male spider must (in most cases) make a timely departure after mating to escape before the female's normal predatory instincts return.
Sperm transmission from male to female occurs indirectly. When a male is ready to mate, he spins a web pad upon which he discharges his seminal fluid. He then dips his pedipalps (also known as palpi), the small, leg-like appendages on the front of his cephalothorax, into the seminal fluid, picking it up by capillary attraction. Mature male spiders have swollen bulbs on the end of their palps for this purpose, and this is a useful way to identify the sex of a spider in the field. With his palps thus charged he goes off in search of a female. Copulation occurs when the male inserts one or both palps into the female's genital opening, known as the epigyne. He transfers his seminal fluid into the female by expanding the sinuses in his palp. Once the sperm is inside her, she stores it in a chamber and only uses it during the egg-laying process, when the eggs comes into contact with the male sperm for the first time and are fertilized; this may be why the vivipary has never evolved in spiders.
Very unusual behaviour is seen in spiders of the genus Tidarren: the male amputates one of his palps before maturation and enters his adult life with one palp only. The palpi constitute 20% of the body mass of males of this species, and since this weight greatly impedes its movement, by detaching one of the two he gains increased mobility. In the Yemeni species Tidarren argo, the remaining palp is then torn off by the female. The separated palp remains attached to the female's epigynum for about four hours and apparently continues to function independently. In the meantime the female feeds on the palpless male.
All text is available under the terms
of the GNU Free Documentation License