The long-legged cellar spider
Biology of Pholcus phalangioides
Author: Kurt Stüber
dedicated to F.A.
You may wonder how to scan a spider. First you cut a hole into your
mousepad and place it on the scanner. Then you convice the spider to
sit there too and then you close the cover. After a dozen trials you
be able to successfully scan the spider when its tired of moving around.
The spider above survived this process unharmed and is probably still
sitting in some corner of my office waiting for prey. They may live
up to 3 years!
Long legged cellar spiders are one of the most common spiders in
households and have a worldwide distribution. They have been reported from
American, European, Asian and Australian houses, Italian caves and Korean
Their scentific name is Pholcus phalangioides (Fuesslin, 1775).
Pholcus are fragile spiders with very long legs and an elongated
body. Body and legs are almost translucent and with a microscope the
movement of blood cells in legs and other body parts can be followed in a
The nets of Pholcidae are irregular arched constructions forming a
kind of baldachin, where the spider resides on the lower side
hanging downwards! Anything that touches the net is attacked and taken for
prey if its not too big.
Cellar spiders feed on any insects that is unfortuante enough to stumble
over their net silk. But Pholcus phalangioides is also known to
invade other spider's nets and attack the original inhabitants. They then
use the foreign to net to catch prey. If the old inhabitant left an
enwrapped prey, this too will be taken by the invader.
A prey is swiftly wrapped with new silk. This may well be several meters
of silk which is spun around and around using the legs number 4 (i.e. the
4th pair of legs). Then the prey is bitten and digesting fluid injected. The
sucking and emtying may take a whole day. The spider is able to empty a
fly by sucking at the tip of a leg, an display of an enormous sucking
As a means of defense the spiders have developed a method of
self-camouflage by whirling their bodies around with the legs firmly
attached to the net ("zittern" in German). To an observer this obscures
the spider from sigth, making them almost "invisible". You may envoke the
whirling by touching the net or the spider.
Two spiders mating.
Mating can take hours. During this process male sperm is transferred to
the female into a special cavity at the beginning of the uterus (uterus
externus). There the spermatozoa remain until they are used to fertize the
egge. When the actual egg laying takes place is largely dependant on the
availability of food.
Female Pholcus phalangioides carrying a package
with her eggs.
Female in its net with about 20 prenymps that have
hatched from their eggs. From the eggs prenymps hatch which are mostly
passive and guarded by their mother. After about 9 days the prenymphs shed
their old skins and little spiders appear which leave the maternal net and
look for a new place to build their own.
- Zunino M.; Frugis S.; Groppali R.; Laudani U.; Priano M.
"About web-building in Pholcus phalangioides (Fuesslin)"
Revue Arachnologique 11:123-131 (1996).
- Uhl G.
"Sperm storage secretion of female celler spiders (Pholcus
phalangioides: Araneae): A gel-electrophoretic analysis"
Journal of Zoology (London) 240(1):153-161(1996).
- Colmogen M.; Paul R.J.
"Imaging of physiological functions in transparent animals (Agonus
cataphractus, Daphnia magna, Pholcus phalangioides) by
video microscopy and digital image processing"
Comparative Biochemistry and Physiologiy 111(4):583-595(1995).
- Paul R.J.; Bihlmayer S.; Colmorgen M.; Zahler S.
"The open circulatory system of spiders (Eurypelma californicum,
Pholcus phalangioides): A survey of functional morphology and
Physiological Zoology 67(6):1360-1382(1994).
- Uhl G.
"Mating behaviour and female sperm storage in Pholcus phalangioides
Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 33(2):667-674(1993.
- Uhl G.
"Genital morpholgy and sperm storage in Pholcus phalangioides
(Fuesslin, 1775) (Pholcidae; Araneae)."
Acta Zoologica (Copenhagen) 75(1):1-12(1994)
- Uhl G.
"Ultrastructure of the accessory glands in female genitalia of Pholcus
phalangioides (Fuesslin, 1771) (Pholcidae, Araneae)."
Acta Zoologica (Copenhagen) 75(1):13-25(1994).
- Dziabaszewski A.
"I. Spider Aranei species of Malbork Castle and other selected buildings
in Elblag province (Polish)"
Poznanskie Towarzystwo Przyjaciol Nauk Wydzial Matematycne-Przyrodniczy
Prace Komisji Biologiczney 73:3-18(1991).
- Jackson R.R.
"Predator-prey interactions between web-invading jumping spiders and
Argiope appense (Araneae, Araneidae) a tropical ord-weaving
Journal of Zoology (London) 228(3):509-520(1992).
On July 20 and 21 I received an
email from Ingrid W. from California confirming the worldwide distribution
of Ph. phalangioides and with observations on molting behaviour.
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