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Trap-Door Spiders

Trap-Door Spiders

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Published by: draculavanhelsing on Dec 17, 2011
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10
HORNBILL
 
 /
 
J
UL
-S
EP
, 2009
Trapped for Life —the world of trapdoor spiders
A trapdoor nest of 
Heligmomerus
sp. on ground
 
HORNBILL
 
 /
 
J
UL
-S
EP
, 2009
11
TRAPDOOR SPIDERS
M
ost of us have beenintroduced to spiders in ourchildhood, be it this nursery rhyme or the story of the king observing the determined little spider that climbedup the wall every time it slipped downto create its web. Some of us understandMiss Muffet’s predicament, but like all‘creepy crawlies’, especially the mostnoticeable and grandiose architects - thebees and termites, spiders also havecertain fascinating abilities and talentsthat demand our respect and attention. The accurate assessment of perspectiveand geometry while creating that perfect web is unique to these arachnids. Butspiders do not just create webs to traptheir prey ... there is more to the talentof our tricky spider! There are certain spiders that do notmake webs, and live either in burrowsor amongst foliage or lead a nomadiclife. One such group that remain trappedfor life within their highly specializedburrows is the trapdoor spiders! Trapdoor spiders are primitive andbelong to the same suborderOrthognatha (mygalomorph spiders) asthat of tarantulas – the bird eating spiders. Trapdoor spiders have two pairsof book lungs unlike the modern spiders(suborder Labidognatha) that have asingle pair. They also differ from themodern forms by the vertical movementof the chelicerae, the structure thatholds the fangs. As the name suggests, the trapdoorspider’s foremost habit is that they makea door at the entrance to their small tubelike burrows, which serves the dualpurpose of protection or cover and as well as a trap to capture prey. Anotherbrilliant design of interior decoration/architecture is the inside wall of theburrow has a thick layer of silk, whichprevents the burrow from caving in andalso forms a suitable microclimate forthe spider. The door is also made of athick layer of silk and is tightly heldhinged to one end of the burrow entrance. Most often dry leaves, moss,lichens and soil particles are adhered tothe outer wall of the door, simulating the surrounding environment. And, withthe trap door shut, the burrows arehighly camouflaged making it difficultto locate. The only way the presence of these mastermind spiders in the area canbe established is by locating empty trapdoor retreats, in which the door isleft open. On closer examination of theimmediate surroundings and with gentleprodding, active burrows can be located.Most often where suitable substrate isavailable many of these spider burrowsare of varying sizes (based on the doorsize) and occur in close proximity. Also,the reason for such clumped distributionof these spiders is that they are poordispersers. Usually, there are many smaller burrows that are occupied by thejuveniles that dispersed from their natalburrow near an adult female’s burrow.In India, of the total 83 species(under 26 genera and 8 families) of mygalomorph spiders, the trapdoorspiders are represented by five families,10 genera with 21 species. Trapdoor spiders are small in sizeranging from 5 mm to 25 mm and areeither arboreal or ground dwelling. They occur throughout the country from the
Little Miss MuffetSat on a tuffet,Eating her curds and whey. Along came a spider, And sat down beside her, And frightened Miss Muffet away.
 Text and photographs:
Manju Siliwal
A camouflaging trapdoor burrows on tree trunks
 
12
HORNBILL
 
 /
 
J
UL
-S
EP
, 2009
TRAPDOOR SPIDERS
plains to the high mountains, thoughthe distribution is patchy and not clearly known. They live in burrows that couldbe found on tree trunks, on or betweenrocks, on roadside bunds and on flatground depending on the species. Trapdoor spiders are nocturnal andlead a solitary life confined to theirburrows, except when the burrow iseither destroyed or disturbed, and or when there is no chance of expansionof the burrow to accommodate thegrowing spider. Only male trapdoorspiders on maturation leave theirburrow, and lead a nomadic life wandering in search of mates andoccupy temporary hideouts during theday.sucks the dissolved tissue. It is not clearly known whether the trapdoor spidersensnare their prey in silk within theburrow. This may not be the necessary case as the prey is trapped inside theburrow and there is no chance of escape.On the other hand, when the spidersenses a threat, or when an intruder isat the door, these little creatures tightly hold the door from within and do notgive up very easily. And, only when theirstrength drains out and on realizing thatthey no longer can hold the door they dash to the deeper end of the burrow. Trapped within the burrow and helplessas they may seem, few of these spidershave further evolved other ingeniousescape strategies.In those trapdoor spiders that havea single burrow entrance as in the caseof spiders of the genus
Idiops 
and
Heligmomerus 
(Idiopidae) they rely entirely on their strength. Their burrowslead vertically into the ground and arethickly lined with silk; their trap door isalso relatively thick, cork-like and do notopen easily. While in another genus
Sasonicus 
(Barychelidae) the spiders alsohave a similar single burrow entrance,however with a wafer-like trapdoor. And, at the time of threat instead of moving to the deeper end of the burrow they jump out when the door is forcedopen, to escape amongst the fallendebris on the ground. In the arborealspiders of the genus
Sason 
(Barychelidae), the burrow is a shortretreat made in a shallow depression onthe tree trunk. The burrow is shaped likea peanut pod and has two trap doors ateither ends. In this case when there isan intrusion at one door the spiderescapes through the other. Similar is thecase in the ground-dwelling spiders of the genus
Diplothele 
(Barychelidae), which have two trap doors that lead intoa single chamber forming a Y-shapedburrow. In still others, as in the ground-dwelling spiders of the genus
Conothele 
(Ctenizidae), they have two ‘D’-shapecork-like doors, with one located at theentrance of the burrow functioning asa trap door, while the other is located atthe rear deep-end of the burrow andused as an escape door. At the time of threat, this little spider cleverly moves
A mating pair of trapdoor spidersAn illustration of a
Diplothele
burrowAn illustration of a
Conothele
burrow
Living within the burrow for mostof their lives, the trapdoor spiders livein a world dependent on vibrations. Inthe immediate surroundings of theburrow entrance a very fine network of silk lining is present, through which thespider senses the movement of prey andalso, interestingly, judges the prey size. When a prey is sensed, the spider movescloser to the entrance and at the rightmoment, in a flash the trap door isopened, and the prey is quickly broughtin and paralyzed. Like all spiders thesetrapdoor spiders first paralyze their prey by injecting venom through the fangsin the chelicerae (an appendage of themouth part). Along with the venom,enzymes are also injected, which dissolvethe animal tissue, and then the spider

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