The Find-a-Spider Guide

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Spider Families

Spiders are placed into groups called families on the basis of the differing physical and behavioural characteristics of individual species. The following is a list of the spider families included in this web site with a brief description of the features that characterise each family.

The spider families are divided into the following suborders:

The Mygalomorphae

This name is given to the group of families that are considered to be comparatively primitive. They have two pairs of book lungs on the underside of the abdomen, fangs that operate vertically in a paraxial fashion, and no obvious female epigynum. They usually live in burrows either in the ground or in crevices in tree trunks because they cannot tolerate conditions that lead to desiccation (drying out). The following seven mygalomorph families are included on this website:

Actinopodidae: The front part of the carapace is broad and high with the eyes spread across its entire width. Both parts of the body are almost as broad as they are long. The legs are short and robust. Females are glossy black all over but males may have areas of red or pale blue. The spinnerets are short. The spiders live in a burrow with a double door. In the breeding season males may be found wandering above ground even during daylight hours. Both sexes are relatively slow moving and the females at least show little aggression. View these spiders...

Barychelidae: The body of this kind of spider is of 'average' mygalomorph shape and proportions. Both sexes are a semi-gloss black all over and sparsely hairy. The dense claw tufts combined with iridescent brushes on the ends of the legs are very distinctive. The spinnerets are very short as is true for all trapdoor families. The spiders live in a burrow with a domed, inwards-opening door, which may not always be obvious. In the breeding season, which is autumn to early winter, males may be found wandering above ground even during daylight hours. View these spiders...

Dipluridae: The body is relatively large and about three times as long as it is wide. The legs are robust and moderately long. The body is typically brown to black in colour with few distinctive markings. The eyes are in a close group and the carapace lacks obvious hairs. The spinnerets are moderately long. The spiders live in burrows the entrance to which is variably constructed. They are common in eucalypt forests. View these spiders...

Hexathelidae: The body is relatively large and about three times as long as it is wide. The colour is usually black but may be matt or glossy. The carapace does not appear obviously hairy. The abdomen sometimes has a symmetrical pattern of markings. The eyes are set in a close group and the spinnerets are moderately long. Hexathelids live in a burrow either in the ground or in hollows of trees. An elaborately constructed entrance to the burrow is usual. These spiders prefer rainforest settings. View these spiders...

Idiopidae: The body is large and about three times as long as it is wide. The legs are strong and of moderate length. All body parts are brown and there are no striking surface markings. In some species the carapace has silver or golden hairs. The eyes are close together. The spinnerets are very short. These spiders are relatively slow moving and not particularly aggressive although the males, which may have a distinctive spur near the end of the tibia on the first pair of legs, will rear up if provoked. Idiopids live in burrows, at least some of which have a neatly fitting door. These spiders are able to live in more open fields and less moist soil than many other mygalomorphs. View these spiders...

Nemesiidae: The body is relatively large and about three times as long as it is wide. The legs are moderately long and robust. All parts of the body are brown to black in colour. The carapace is sometimes covered in silvery hairs and the eyes are in a close group. The spinnerets are moderately long. These spiders live in a burrow, the entrance to which is variably constructed. View these spiders...

Theraphosidae: The body is very large and about three times as long as it is wide. The legs are strong and moderately long. They have claw tufts and dense scopulae at their ends. For most Australian species the entire body and legs are a uniform brown colour and distinctly hairy. The spinnerets are moderately long. These spiders prefer relatively arid conditions and dig deep burrows with relatively simple entrances. View these spiders...
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The Araneomorphae

This name refers to the spider families that are considered modern (or advanced) and can tolerate exposed habitats that promote desiccation. Araneomorphs have only one pair of book lungs, fangs that operate in a pincer-like diaxial fashion, and a distinctive epigynum on the underside of the female abdomen.

Amaurobiidae: The body is small to medium in size and is 'conventional' if somewhat variable in shape, this leading to the construction of several amaurobiid subfamilies. These are difficult to distinguish from each other even with the aid of a stereo microscope. There are several other families, including the Desidae and Dictynidae, that were originally considered to be amaurobiids because of their similar physical characteristics. The legs of true amaurobiids are moderateely long and slender and possess some spines or strong hairs. Body colour varies from yellow to brown and may appear somewhat translucent. Most amaurobiids live in crevices on or above ground or in retreats under bark or made from bound leaves and spider silk. View these spiders...

Ammoxenidae:These spiders have a small body with a pear-shaped cephalothorax and a tapering abdomen. The body is usually coated with fine hairs and scales that give it an iridescent satin sheen. Ammoxenids are included in the Lower Gnaphosoidea, a group of four small, gnaphosid-like families that also contains the Gallieniellidae, Trochanteriidae and Cithaeronidae. At least some of these are difficult to distinguish from gnaphosids even with the aid of a stereo microscope. Important characteristics of the Australian ammoxenids include flattened posterior median eyes and modified spinnerets. All legs are moderately long and tapering, the fourth pair being the longest and the third pair the shortest. The spiders have drab colours with minimal patterning. Ammoxenids normally wander at ground level and do not build a large insect-trapping web or retreat, but they may make use of crevices in the ground and these may be lined with a small amount of silk. View these spiders...

Araneidae: This is by far the largest of the spider families. The body is of variable size but the abdomen is always much bigger than the cephalothorax. The legs also vary greatly in length and may be bare or quite hairy. The carapace may also have a covering of silvery hairs. The lateral pairs of eyes tend to be set close together on short stalks. When the spider is resting the legs are likely to be drawn up tightly against the carapace, which may be almost completely obscured. The abdomen varies in shape and markings and is frequently brightly coloured. It may have one or more sharp projections. For many species the male is much smaller and is very different from the female and has a large, rounded tarsal bulb on the end of each palp. Araneids mostly build circular orb webs, the specific construction of which is useful for species identification. View these spiders...

Archaeidae: The members of this family are often called pelican spiders because a long and almost vertical 'neck' region of the cephalothorax plus an equally long pair of chelicerae give this spider the appearance of a pelican. The abdomen is also arched and has a scute (a tough shell-like skin) on top, this typically possessing several pairs of prominent tubercles (knobs). However, the adults are actually very small spiders with body lengths of approximately 2-4 mm. They are normally found only in rainforest or permanently damp undergrowth environments. While they sometimes hide in crevices under bark, their preferred habitat appears to be damp moss or leaf litter. Although they are clearly fearful of suffering desiccation they have been seen to hang down from a strand of silk in the evenings and 'spear' their prey with their long, barbed chelicerae. View these spiders...

Austrochilidae: Hickmania troglodytes is the only known Australian representative of this familyh. Its body is comparatively large in size and 3-4 times as long as it is wide. The legs are very long and slender with only a few fine hairs on them. The body and leg colours are shades of brown. Most specimens are found in caves and similar dark, cool cavities and this may be one of the reasons why they live much longer than other araneomorph species. They build a large horizontally suspended web. View these spiders...

Clubionidae: The body is small to medium in size and typically is about three times as long as it is wide. The legs are relatively long and slender. Body colour varies from pale green to yellow or brown and may appear somewhat translucent. Most clubionids live in rolled up leaves or under bark or stones. View these spiders...

Corinnidae: The body is small to medium in size and typically is about three times as long as it is wide. The legs are relatively long and slender. Body colour varies but is usually yellow or brown and may have some surface patterning. Most corinnids live in leaf litter or on dry bark of trees. View these spiders...

Cyatholipidae: The body of this kind of spider varies somewhat with the particular species, the male characteristics being more distinctive than those of the female. The main feature that distinguishes the members of this family from those of the Family Theridiidae and some other spider families is the presence of a broad tracheal spiracle slit that runs across the underside of the abdomen just in front of the spinnerets. Unfortunately, this is very difficult to see even with the aid of a stereo microscope since all Australian cyatholipid species are very small. Most cyatholipids live among green leaves or on a horizontal sheet web. View these spiders...

Cycloctenidae: The body of this kind of spider varies somewhat with the particular species. The eye pattern is distinctive and the legs tend to be spiny with paired spines on the first two pairs of legs. Most cycloctenids are said to live in leaf litter or on dry bark of trees and live their lives as vagrants rather than building and occupying webs or retreats. View these spiders...

Deinopidae: The body is much longer than it is wide and tapers towards its rear end. The legs are very long and adapted for the net-casting activity for which this family is famous. Some members of this family have a pair of eyes that are unusually large. The body parts are brown to grey in colour with some patterning. It is usual for deinopids to rest with legs extended into an X configuration either on a thin web among shrubs or on flat man-made surfaces. View these spiders...

Desidae: The body is small to moderate in size and is about four times as long as it is wide. Most members of this family are a uniform dark brown to black with only faint surface markings. The cephalothorax and abdomen may be a tapering cylinder or flattened to fit under loose bark or into narrow crevices. View these spiders...

Dysderidae: The body is moderately large in size and is about four times as long as it is wide, the abdomen being oval and about twice as long as the cephalothorax. There are only 6 eyes and the chelicerae are large and porrect (pointing forward rather than down). On the underside of the abdomen a pair of distinctive tracheal spiracle slits can be seen just behind the book lung openings. There is only one species, Dysdera crocata, definitely known to be present in Australia. This species is cosmopolitan but is most often found in south-east Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand. Dysdera crocata is distinguished by legs and cephalothorax that are a uniform brick red and an abdomen that is a pale salmon cream colour. View these spiders...

Filistatidae: The body is up to 8 mm in length and has an undistinctive body shape although the cephalothorax is much smaller than the abdomen. Filistatids have a divided cribellum in front of spinnerets which are too short to be seen except from underneath the spider. There is also a short, multi-row calamistrum. The eyes are in a compact group formed by two forward-curving rows of four. Both the cephalothorax and the abdomen have uniform markings and the legs have pale bands. Filistatids seem to prefer habitats at ground level, perhaps under fallen logs and loose rocks and can be found in open eucalypt forests to arid regions. View these spiders...

Gallieniellidae: This is a relatively obscure family of small spiders that have an oval cephalothorax and abdomen and rather long, slender legs, the first and last pairs being much longer than the others. The body and legs as very shiny with no obvious hairs or spines and are typically almost black though the legs have some colourless areas. The spinnerets are all short. The chelicerae are somewhat porrect (i.e. they point forward) and the fangs point vertically downwards. View these spiders...

Gnaphosidae: These spiders have a small body with a pear-shaped cephalothorax and a tapering abdomen. The body is usually coated with fine grey hairs that give the abdomen a satin sheen. One pair of eyes is pearly white and aimed upwards. The anterior lateral spinnerets are moderately long and widely spaced. All legs are relatively long without being slender. View these spiders...

Hahniidae: The body is usually very small with no distinctive specialisations apart from the spinnerets, which are arranged in an almost straight line across the underside of the spider. The body colouring typically is a dappled brown to match the colour of the bark the spider normally hides under or the leaf litter it wanders through. View these spiders...

Hersiliidae: The body is small to moderate in side, the abdomen being its biggest part. The legs are long and slender and the spinnerets are remarkably long. The body colouring is brown to match the colour of the dry bark the spider is normally resting on. View these spiders...

Lamponidae: The body is small to moderate in size and generally dark brown to black in colour. The cephalothorax and abdomen may be a tapering cylinder or flattened to fit under loose bark or into narrow crevices. View these spiders...

Linyphiidae: These are very small spiders, the largest part of the body being the abdomen, which for at least some species is almost spherical. The long legs have spines on their surfaces. The body colour is grey to black with some mottling. Linyphiids often make dense webs in green vegetation. View these spiders...

Lycosidae: The body size varies from relatively small to quite large and is about three times as long as it is wide. The legs are moderately long and robust. The surface colours are mostly browns and greys with some distinctive surface markings. One pair of eyes is unusually large. Lycosids live in burrows in the ground but frequently leave their burrows to stalk ground-dwelling insects. Females sometimes drag an egg sac behind them or carry their spiderlings on their back. Spiders occupying their burrows will often be seen just inside the entrance, which is sometimes fitted with a door or a collar of leaf litter. View these spiders...

Malkaridae: This family contains only a small number of described Australian species, only one of which has be found in South Queensland. Malkarids have an 'average' spider body shape and typically are only about 3 mm long. Both parts of the body are somewhat flattened and have 'toughened' upper surfaces with numerous small pits. A pair of deep grooves can be seen on the edges of the carapace between the palps and the first pair of legs. At maturity the male palp is relatively large. View these spiders...

Micropholcommatidae: The body is less than 2 mm in length and the legs are of moderate length. The cephalothorax is slightly smaller than the abdomen, which is spherical or oval in shape. The cephalothorax is highest at the caput (head), which has a variable number of eyes, and falls sharply towards the abdomen. At least for some species the upper surface of the abdomen is covered by a large scute (scale) or sometimes several smaller ones, and there is also a scute on the underside of the abdomen as well as a stiff 'collar' surrounding the short spinnerets. The male palps of at least some species are relatively large and have a bizarre shape. Under the stereo microscope it can be seen that the terminal segment of each leg is about twice as long as the second-last segment The body and legs typically are a brownish colour. This kind of spider makes a very small web in leaf litter or among mosses. At least one species prefers to use crevices in caves, and all micropholcommatids require an environment that has a relative high humidity. View these spiders...

Mimetidae: The body is moderately sized and about three times as long as it is wide. The cephalothorax is rounded and of average height and the abdomen is slightly longer and pointed. The first 2 pairs of legs are much longer than the other two pairs. All legs are visibly spiny but the outer segments of the first pair of legs have a row of large curved spines along one side with a row of smaller spines between each pair of large spines. The body and legs appear a somewhat translucent green colour. Mimetids do not make webs but are often found on green leaves and survive by ambushing other spiders. Hence, they are known as pirate spiders. View these spiders...

Miturgidae: The body is moderately large and about three times as long as it is wide. The body and leg shapes are typical of an 'average' spider and are usually light brown to grey. Lighter stripes running along the body surfaces are also a likely feature. Miturgids live in low shrubs or under fallen logs or rocks and at least some of them occupy a retreat composed of dense white silk with several entrances. View these spiders...

Nephilidae: Large spiders found in extensive golden coloured webs strung between trees or other tall objects. At least for the females the legs are long and slender and hold the spider inverted in the centre of the web. The abdomen is oval to elongate and is considerably longer than the cephalothorax. View these spiders...

Nicodamidae: Small to medium sized spiders found in small sheet webs close to the ground in eucalypt forests. In most cases the cephalothorax and legs are uniformly red and the abdomen black. The body shape is the 'conventional' one for a spider. View these spiders...

Oecobiidae: Very small grey spiders found in tiny webs close to the ceiling in domestic dwellings. The first two pairs of legs are unusual in pointing forward then curving backwards. View these spiders...

Oonopidae: Small spiders less than 4 mm in body length with a cephalothorax that is flattened to domed and oval or pear-shaped. There are 6 eyes (AME absent) or none at all. The eyes are in 2 rows of equal width and spacing. The abdomen is oval and laterally flattened with a dorsal and a ventral scute (a tough shell-like outer layer), but both of these may be absent. The anal area is fringed by a double row of stiff hairs. The spinnerets are at or near the rear end of the abdomen. There may be 1-3 strong spines on the femurs of the first two pairs of legs and their tibiae may have 4 pairs of strong ventral spines with another 1-2 pairs of spines on the next more distal leg segment View these spiders...

Oxyopidae: The body is small and has obviously spiny legs, the spines pointing outwards perpendicular to the leg surface. The eyes are arranged into a hexagon. The body colours are light green, brown or yellow and pale stripes may be present along the body. Oxyopids prefer to forage on small garden plants and easily jump from leaf to leaf. View these spiders...

Philodromidae: The body of the four known species of this family found in Australia is typically less than 10 mm in length. The cephalothorax is oval in shape but the abdomen is much longer and may be almost cylindrical in shape. Its spinnerets are short and difficult to see. The legs have visible spines but these are finer and less erect than those on oxyopids. The first two pairs of legs are the longest pairs and point forwards while the last two pairs backwards. All legs are relatively slender and have claw tufts at their ends. At least some legs have scopulae at their ends. In general, these spiders are cream to light brown in colour and have only faint surface markings. Philodromids are usually found on leaves in moist sclerophyll forest settings. View these spiders...

Pholcidae: These are the daddy long-legs spiders with small bodies and very long, slender legs. They are mostly found inside man-made constructions where they build untidy webs. View these spiders...

Pisauridae: Moderately large spiders which spread their legs radially to allow them to walk on water. Although pisaurids are generally known as water spiders that can spend time in bubbles under the surface of freshwater ponds, many species actually live in retreats in green vegetation well away from water. The body is like that of a lycosid spider except that none of the eyes are unusually large as is the case for a wolf spider. View these spiders...

Prodidomidae: Small spiders commonly found among leaf litter in eucalypt forests. They have a reasonably 'conventional' body shape but with long, slender legs that lack spines and obvious hairs. Perhaps the most noteworthy characteristic of the Molycriinae branch of this family is the pair of remarkably long anterior spinnerets which originate about half way along the abdomen on its underside. The posterior spinnerets are in the more common position at the end of the abdomen. It is claimed that these enlarged anterior spinnerets are used to rapidly spin silk that is then used to catch ants, on which this kind of spider feeds exclusively. View these spiders...

Salticidae: The body is mostly small and variable in shape. Many species have a comparatively robust cephalothorax and an abdomen that is about the same size or somewhat smaller. The legs are short and stout, especially the first pair which curve forwards and have strong spines. The eyes are arranged in two rows along the carapace and the first pair are unusually large and are directed forwards. The usual body colours are grey, brown and black although some species have distinctive and colourful surface patterns. Salticids are found on leaves, tree trunks or any other surface where insects are likely to be found, including the outer walls of houses. They use silk to form egg sacs and retreats in leaves and under bark but they do not use it to catch insects. Instead, they jump quite large distances to seize nearby insects or to escape predators. View these spiders...

Scytodidae: The body is of medium size but the smoothly domed appearance of the carapace and abdomen is distinctive. The legs are slender and the spider uses them to stand high off any surface it is resting on. View these spiders...

Segestriidae: The body is of medium size and is the 'conventional' spider shape. All four pairs of legs are of similar length but the first three pairs point forwards and the last pair backwards. Segestriids have only only six eyes. Their usual habitat is a crevice or cavity from the entrance of which strands of silk (trip lines) radiate. These warn the spider of the presence of an insect near the burrow. View these spiders...

Selenopidae: A small to medium body with legs that curve forwards in crab-like fashion. There are no obvious scopulae on the ends of the legs as is the case with huntsman spiders, which are otherwise quite similar in appearance. Their normal habitat is under loose bark. View these spiders...

Sparassidae: This family contains very large hairy spiders with all legs curved forwards so the spiders can move sideways as well as straight ahead. The outer segments of each leg have dense scopulae which facilitate lateral movements. The typical body and leg colours are grey, brown and black, often with enough mottling to provide useful camouflage when the spiders are resting on bark surfaces. It is usual to find huntsman spiders under bark, although they will sometimes be found on the walls of man-made constructions. View these spiders...

Stiphidiidae: The body is medium sized with long, radiating legs and a speckled brown appearance. These spiders are usually found under rock ledges where they build tent-like webs. View these spiders...

Tetragnathidae: The body is long and slender. The legs are also very long and thin and tend to point fore and aft when the spider is at rest on a twig or in its web. The chelicerae are very large and sometimes have a quite bizarre shape. The usual body colours are shades of grey, green, brown and yellow. The spiders make an orb web but this may be little more than a few tight threads to which the spider clings. View these spiders...

Theridiidae: Small spiders, mostly with a large abdomen and a very small cephalothorax. The males are much smaller than the females. On many species the abdomen is almost spherical and is brightly coloured. The legs are long and slender and there is a small comb on the end of the fourth pair of legs that the spider uses for drawing out silk from the spinnerets. The web is tangled with little obvious organisation but usually has contact with the ground. View these spiders...

Thomisidae: The body is small to moderate in size. The abdomen is somewhat large and more variable in shape than the cephalothorax. The legs are visibly spiny, especially the first two pairs which are very robust and curve forwards in crab-like fashion. The body colour may be white, green or brown to match the colour of the surfaces on which the spider is most likely to be found. The usual habitats are on leaves, in flowers or on/under bark. In the last of these habitats the spider's surfaces are roughened to improve the camouflage. View these spiders...

Trochanteriidae: The body is small to moderate in size and is about four times as long as it is wide. Most members of this family are a uniform dark brown to black with only faint surface markings. View these spiders...

Uloboridae: A small to medium sized body is present and the first two pairs of legs are longer than the others and point directly forwards when the spider is at rest. Uloborids are generally found suspended in small, untidy webs. View these spiders...

Zodariidae: These are medium to large ground-dwelling spiders that are often found in leaf litter. The legs are moderately long and the body is dark brown or black. The carapace has a smooth domed surface. Some species have patterns of lighter spots on the abdomen. View these spiders...

Zoridae: These are small to medium sized spiders that are usually found in green vegetation (particularly eucalypts) or roaming on or in leaf litter. For many species the body shape is quite similar to that of a wolf spider (Family Lycosidae) but the legs tend to be somewhat longer and more tapered. They do not have an enlarged pair of eyes as wolf spiders do. Some species have distinctive longitudinal markings on their upper surfaces. They also differ from wolf spiders in that they do not build a burrow in the ground but instead have a web attached to a silken retreat among green leaves. View these spiders...

Zoropsidae: These are small to reasonably large sized spiders that are usually found as ground hunters in rainforests or damp near-tropical eucalypt forests. Their body shape is quite similar to that of a rather furry wolf spider (Family Lycosidae) but their 8 eyes are in two almost straight rows of 4 and they lack the pair of greatly enlarged eyes that characterize lycosids. Other distinguishing features are the location of the spinnerets on the end of a tapering extension of the abdomen and the presence of 4-6 pairs of strong spines on the tibiae of the first two pairs of legs and 2-3 pairs on the next leg segment (the metatarsus). Neither of these features are easy to see without looking at the spider from underneath. (No pages available as yet)
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Email Ron Atkinson for more information.    Last updated 9 September 2012.