Purse Web Spiders (Atypus) belong to the sub-order Orthognatha (Mygalomorphae) or primitive spiders and are recognised by their large fangs.
Their size varies between 10 and 15 mm. In Europe only two members of this sub-order can be found. In Australia 13% of the spiders belong to the Mygalomorphae. Purse Web spider go back 360 million years and are very timid spiders. They are related to Tarantulas and Funnel Web spiders.
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Most of these spiders live fearful lives buried deep in holes. They react on unexpected events by cowering in fear, unable to move, or by violently plunging their pickaxe fangs. The Purse Web spiders are named for their webs, which are purse-like, long tubes that stick out from their burrows They dig a hole, up to 50 cm deep, in the ground and line it up with silk. Above the ground the tube extends for several centimeters. The tube is covered with soil and debris and therefore difficult to spot.
The spider lies in wait inside the purse. If an insect should step on the purse, the spider rushes up and bites it through the silken purse and pulls it though the silk.
Because the spider is hiding so deep in the ground and hides the tube above the ground very well, it is difficult to find. Only in autumn when the males start searching for a female to breed, the spider can be spotted. They are living in colonies, so if one is spotted more may be found in the surroundings. Mating takes place in the tube and the spiders stay together for several months. Then the male dies and is eaten by the female. Females may live for over eight years. Spiderlings take a year to become full-grown and four years to reach maturity.
1. Ed Nieuwenhuys, April 27, 2002
2. Photos: Todd
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