27 January 2013

Beneath the trapdoor danger lurks...

Wherever you go, you are bound to find spiders. They are an ancient class of predator and have learnt to use poisons, brute force and complex webs of silk to terrorise and instil fear into animals on every continent of the world except Antarctica. 

Typically, an easy way to tell the rough age of a species of spider is by looking at the complexity of the web it spins and the general rule is that the more elaborate the web, the younger the species of spider. This makes sense really as it would be expected for more complex structures, such as web scaffolding patterns, to take longer to evolve! Thus, the infamous tarantulas, which use silk only to line their burrows for warmth, are among of the oldest species of spider on the planet. 

Trapdoor spiders are another ancient lineage of arachnid, which is suggested by the simple manner in which they use silk. They use silk for the same purpose as many more ‘modern’ spiders since they rely on it to convey vibrations to them to show that prey is nearby, but do not spin it into complex webs. 

There are more than 500 different species of trapdoor spider that have been described so far, which can be found in tropical regions all across Earth. Despite being large and looking fairly intimidating, trapdoor spiders are rarely aggressive and are not dangerous to humans.

So instead of building silk nets like many newer species, trapdoor spiders dig a deep burrow in the soil (some species make a long tube of silk instead) and spin trip-lines that radiate out from the tunnel’s entrance. The spider then lurks near the mouth of its burrow, touching its trip-lines, and waits for an insect to knock one of the threads. When this happens, the spider feels the vibration and lunges out to grab, bite and poison its prey. 

Many species of trapdoor spider take this ambush tactic a step further and actually build a covering over the hole of their tunnel. This ‘trapdoor’ is what gives the family of spiders its name and is cleverly made from materials surrounding the burrow, such as soil, vegetation and silk, so it is camouflaged perfectly with the ground! 

Species that make a trapdoor always hinge their covering at one end with thick webbing and hold it down tightly using special claws on the ends of their feet. When its trip-lines are activated, the spider flips open its trapdoor, explodes out of its burrow and drags the hapless insect back inside for its dinner! And because trapdoors are typically very large spiders, almost all insects are on their menu – with meals commonly including cockroaches, crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, moths and other spiders. 

As would be expected, trapdoor spiders invest such a huge amount of time and energy in digging their burrows that they are a very shy and reclusive species. In fact, trapdoors rarely leave their burrows at all and female spiders typically spend their full 20 year lifespan in one burrow! It is usually only males that venture out from their burrows and even then, only once they have matured sexually and are seeking a mate. Like all spiders, male trapdoors mature near to the end of their lives (which are much shorter than those of females) so are inclined to take huge risks in finding a mate before they die. 

Once a male spider has mated with a viable female, the male dies (often to be eaten by the female) and the female remains in her burrow to feed her spiderlings when they hatch. Shortly after hatching, the spiderlings venture out of their mother’s burrow to dig their own home using their front legs and specialised barbs on their fangs called rastellum that help them to move soil.


  1. The photo below the third paragraph is of a wolf spider, which is not a trapdoor spider. The eyes are a dead giveaway. ;-)

  2. The photo below the third paragraph is of a wolf spider, which is not a trapdoor spider. The eyes are a dead giveaway. ;-)

  3. what type of trap door is the picture?