Hello, hello, Hive!
We'll be taking is easy this week by looking at a spider that I'm certain everyone has seen before. The harmless, silent, quirky Cellar spider, also known as the daddy-long-legs spider in some countries, of the family Pholcidae.
First, let's dispel a myth around these gentle animals. They are not deadly or even medically significant. Even if their chelicera and fangs were larger, their venom would still be insignificant to us. The other part of that myth is also false: their fangs can pierce our skin, it just doesn't feel like much or leave much of an effect.
There, the air is clear and we can continue with this little Bob-Ross type spider. Happy and chill and gentle.
• SMERINGOPUS NATALENSIS •
The genus I'll be discussing today is the African common cellar spider, Smeringopus. They're found under many nooks and cranies and around many corners here in South Africa. A staple spider.
But most Pholcids share the same attributes. Like how gentle they are. And almost nonchalant if they happen to find themselves on us. They're very passive, almost as if they know they're harmless to us so we should be harmless to them. Sadly, humans are very harmful.
• GENUS •
Due to the shape of the abdomen, being long and thin with a sharp point at the tip, along with the long legs and general large size, it ruled out all other genera of Pholcids known in South Africa.
Aside from the physical characteristics that set Smeringopus apart from other genera here, the wide-spread distribution of the spider makes it an iconic genus. Smeringopus is pretty much a household spider, found everywhere in South Africa and widely across Africa.
I wouldn't be surprised if at least one Smeringopus spider is found in each property in the country.
As for determining which species of Smeringopus I had taking over my house, I looked to the literature. Specifically, a revision of the genus. Not all spider literature have photos or drawings in them, but this one did which made it a little less tedious to narrow down candidates and, eventually through descriptions, identify species.
• DESCRIPTION •
- Class: Arachnida
- Order: Araneae
- Infra-Order: Araneamorph (true spiders)
- Family: Pholcidae
- Genus: Smeringopus
- Species: S. natalensis
Around 10mm in body length. Leg span of approximately 100mm diagonally.
Round and flat yellowish brown carapace with dark almost-hourglass marking down centre and 3 dark triangles around edges on each side. Sternum and labium dark brown and coxae light yellowish. Pedipalps light brown and very short.
Long and thin. Dorsal light brown with yellow tint, dark heart-marking down centre, 5 thick dark lines down each side of heart-marking, and three dark patches posterior centre. Ventral yellowish with thick dark line down middle and small dark spots. Epigastric furrow large and dark.
Long and thin, light brown with black and white bands around end of femur, patella, and end of tibia. Leg formation 1, 4, 2, 3.
As in female but with slightly shorter legs and tarsus of pedipalps reddish and bulbous.
• ABOUT THE GENUS •
The genus Smeringopus is easy to identify by eye, due to the pretty and unique patterns on the dorsal side of its long and thin abdomen. Along with that are the black and white bands around the joints of the legs.
Like many Pholcids, this genus quickly dominates an area, building its web and displacing any other invertebrate around it. They, too, carry their eggs in a clutch between their chelicera and pedipalps until the young hatch and disperse.
Smeringopus is also a richly diverse genus, currently with 55 known and described species! There could even be more yet undescribed. These are large spiders, in leg length that is. Their bodies are small relative to their legs, but are still considered a medium to large size for true spiders.
Smeringopus, along with the Giant Cellar spider Artema atlanta, are sometimes mistaken for Violin spiders (also known as Recluse spiders) in South Africa, because of the general shape of their body and legs and the pattern on their carapace.
• NOTES •
These spiders seem to be semi-communal, and I'd wager definitely colonial. I reckon this from observing the many in and around my house that not only share a space but appear to share a web. They don't share prey, however. But they also don't readily attack one another.
There is a web in which a colony of S. natalensis shares a large web construct with a Pholcus sp. cellar spider. Another colony shares a space and part of their web with a brown button spider.
Not to mention the social experiment I'm observing around an LED light of the cellar spider sharing a space, but not a web, with tent-web spiders, Theridion spiders, a brown button spider, and a garden spider, along with a couple of species of praying mantis insects, altogether.
I've always thought of cellar spiders as gentle giants, the Bob Ross of the spider world. But seeing these instances of near-peaceful co-existence with not only each other, but other species of spiders and even other invertebrates, is astounding. Perhaps this is only the case, again, because of the high abundance of food and space.