Spiders in the Tetragnathidae, and Atypidae families

Atypidae family, purse web spiders

These spiders are commonly known as the purse web spiders, but the web is actually a long, narrow tube. The entrance is usually camouflaged with small pieces of earth. When prey steps on to the entrance, the spider grabs it and hauls it into the tube. The length of the tube of the European species is from 20 - 62 mm with the greater part of this being underground or under cover. There are 43 species world wide, only 3 European species - all with very large chelicerae, and only one U. K. species, Atypus affinis.

The drawing below shows the typical eye arrangement.

Atypidae eyes

Only males and spiderlings can be seen outside the tube - males to seek a mate, and spiderlings when they disperse to start their own home.

In the U. K. individuals take around 4 years to reach maturity.

Mating. When the male detects a female he drums his front legs and palps against her tube. If he is accepted he cuts a slit in the tube and enters. Mating takes place in the autumn inside the tube and both male and female will live together for a few months until the male dies, and only then does the female eat him.

Eggs are laid in a sac attached to the tube. The spiderlings hatch in the late summer, but remain in the tube until the following spring then disperse by climbing vegetation and ballooning. Below is Atypus.

Atypus sp. purse web spider

Females can live as long as 9 years, and some North American species can live for 25 years!

Atypus affinis is the single U. K. species on the family, it grows up to 18 mm long with short legs and large, forward - facing jaws typical to the family. It is found mainly in the south of England in dry, sandy habitats usually near heather. The female never leaves her silken tunnel, and can live for eight years. The tunnel is mainly underground, with the small above-ground section heavily camouflaged with soil particles and bits of vegetation. Anything walking over this part will be grabbed in the spider's jaws and hauled into the tunnel.

Males live for four years. The males have to leave their tunnels to go in search of a female to mate with. Once he has found a receptive female and mated the male sometimes lives with his mate for a few months.

Tetragnathidae family

Most spiders in this family spin orb webs with a small hole in the middle.

The spiders have eight eyes, long, spiny legs and large chelicerae. There are 16 species in Europe (although this family is split by some taxonomists into the Tetragnathidae and the Metidae), and 14 in the U. K.

The Tetragnathidae are also known as the long jawed orbweb spiders (see Tetragnatha montana below)

In the Genus Meta or Metellina (there is some disagreement about the correct genus name) there are 5 European and 3 British species. They are often mistaken for spiders in the Araneidae family.

Courtship. The male waits until the female is busy eating, then he approaches. And going by the size of her fangs (see below) that is probably a good idea.

Metellina segmentata or Meta segmentata, the Lesser garden spider, the Autumn spider

Metellina segmentata

Meta segmentata

Metallina segmentata above and below, is abundant in the U. K. and Europe. The web is built in vegetation, trees or man-made structures up to around 2 m from the ground. They are found in woods, gardens and wasteland.

Meta segmentata eyes, fang and palps

The female body length is 4 - 8 mm and male is 4 - 6 mm. Mating takes place twice a year; in April or may, and again in September. The colouration varies considerably as you can see from the photographs above.

Tetragnatha montana, a stretch spider

Tetragnatha montata, stretch spider

Tetragnatha montana, above, has the typically long legs and elongated abdomen. When resting on a grass blade or reed with two pairs of legs stretched out in front and the other two pairs stretched out behind these spiders are perfectly camouflaged. They spin an orb web, but unlike many orb web spinners they do not spin a retreat off at the edge of the web. Instead they are usually found sitting in the middle of the web or stretched out on a grass stem.

I believe the spider above is T. montana as it was found in a privet hedge nowhere near open water. The almost identical T. extensa is usually found close to or even over open water, whereas T. montana is found in drier habitats. Males are 6 - 9 mm long and females 6 - 11 mm.They are fairly common in the U. K. and northern Europe.

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