21 Totally Sweet Spider Superlatives
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Super spidersSpiders are incredibly diverse creatures. They can be the size of the period at the end of the sentence… or the size of your face. They can live in deserts, in the tropics, in Siberia and even underwater. They can be docile or deadly, ground-dwelling or web-spinning.
To highlight the incredible accomplishments of arachnids, biologist Stefano Mammola of the University of Turin and his colleagues rounded up 99 of their most mind-boggling records in a publication in the open-access journal PeerJ. It's a wide-ranging list, but we've picked 21 of our favorite entries and paired them with pictures of the spiders that deserve a little bit of recognition. These records might just make you see arachnids in a whole new light.
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Largest fossil spider
Now here's a new twist on Jurassic Park: The largest fossil spider ever found comes from the middle of that era, some 163 million to 174 million years ago.
The species is Mongolarachnidae jurassica. Found fossilized in Inner Mongolia, China, this species had a body length of 0.7 inches (1.65 centimeters) and legs up to 2.4 inches (6 cm) long.
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Oldest fossil spider
Spiders are eight-legged old souls. These arachnids have witnessed the breakup of Pangaea, the rise and fall of the dinosaurs, and the expansion and retreat of the polar ice caps. The oldest fossilized spiders date back around 300 million years, with the trophy for oldest going to a species called Palaeothele montceauensis. Discovered in Montceau-les-Mines, France, the fossil shows an impression of a spider about 0.5 inches (1.2 centimeters) long.
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The prize for most unwieldy family reunions goes to … Saltidicae! This group, better known as the jumping spiders, includes more than 6,000 individual species. Jumping spiders are a fascinating bunch. They have the best vision of any spiders and often put on fantastic mating displays, complete with snazzy dances. One fuzzy little jumping spider in England even learned to jump on command.
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Most star-studded names
They'll never know it, but a group of "smiley-face spiders" found in the Caribbean now boasts star-studded monikers.
Researchers and students at the University of Vermont gave six new species of Spintharus spiders names to honor those who had stood up for human rights and warned about climate change. These spiders are known for their distinctive markings, which look a bit like a happy face. The arachnid-honored individuals? Figure them out from these scientific names: Spintharus davidattenboroughi, S. barackobamai, S. michelleobamaae, S. davidbowiei, S. leonardodicaprioi, and S. berniesandersi. (The researchers also named one species, Spintharus skelly, after a pet cat.)
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The Darwin's bark spider (Caerostris darwini) spins its webs across rivers, ponds and lakes, trawling for the insects that flutter over water. By necessity, these webs can be huge — up to 30 square feet (2.8 square meters) in area and some 82 feet (25 m) across. That's a lot of work for a little spider: Females measure about an inch (2.5 cm) in body length, and males just a quarter of an inch (6 millimeters).
The webs are also extremely tough and elastic, researchers have found. A 2010 study revealed that the spider's silk is about twice as stretchy as other related spiders that spin smaller webs. It was also 10 times more resistant than Kevlar to breaking from being stretched.
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Longest leg span
Heteropoda maxima, the giant huntsman, is sometimes considered the largest spider on Earth. These spiders, found in Laos, are more spindly than the Goliath bird-eater, but regularly boast leg spans of at least a foot (30 cm). This dinner-plate-sized arachnid doesn't spin webs; instead, it chases down its prey, delivering a venomous killing bite. Fortunately, the venom isn't very dangerous to humans, causing only minor pain and swelling.
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A little less terrifying than the bird-eater or the huntsman is Patu digua, the smallest spider on record. This pipsqueak is only 0.01 inches (0.37 millimeters) in total length, according to a 1977 paper in American Museum Novitates. The spiders are so small that studying them is a challenge, according to that paper. A light microscope isn't strong enough to allow researchers to see their most diminutive features, so scanning electron microscopy must be used instead.
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The longest fangs-to-body-size award goes to Myrmarachne spiders. Remember the Salticidae jumping spiders and their enormous family tree? Well, Myrmarachne occupy one of the weirder branches. These spiders look almost exactly like ants, an adaptation that helps them avoid spider-loving predators. Male Myrmarachne spiders also have enormous fangs, longer than their head and thorax put together.
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Largest venom glands
Most spiders have some form of venom, but very few are actually dangerous to humans; spider venom is generally injected in tiny amounts into insects or other small prey, so hurting people isn't the point. The Phoneutria genus of Brazilian wandering spiders is an exception. Their venom is capable of killing a human, in part because their large venom glands pack a lot of punch. Their venom glands can be up to 0.4 inches (10.2 mm) by 0.1 inches (2.6 mm) in size. But wandering spiders don't typically inject all their venom at one time, so the chance that a bite will actually kill a person is low.
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With a common name like the Goliath bird-eater, it's no surprise that Theraphosa blondi weighs in as the most massive spider on the planet. These spiders have been known to grow as large as 6 ounces (170 grams), with a leg span up to 1 foot (30 cm) and bodies the size of a clenched fist. Goliath bird-eaters are capable of eating birds, but since they hunt mostly on the ground, their main prey are large earthworms — though they'll chow down on frogs and insects, too.
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The smallest spiders build the smallest webs. According to Mammola and his colleagues, Symphytognathidae spiders hold the record for smallest webs built. This group includes the probable smallest spider in the world, Patu digua. These spiders weave webs that are less than 0.4 inches (10 mm) wide.
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Most dangerous (to humans)
Spiders rarely bite humans. In fact, researchers reported in 2013 that most of the reported spider-bites are actually simple rashes, skin infections or bites from other arthropods. "You really have to work to get bitten by a spider, because they don't want to bite you," the lead author of that study told Live Science at the time.
Still, it'd be wise to steer well clear of the Sydney funnel-web spider (Atrax robustus), an Australian native that can kill a human with a mere 0.2 milligrams of venom per kilogram of the victim's weight. Only about 17 percent of A. robustus bites involve a large injection of venom, though, according to a 2005 review paper; another denizen of Down Under, the Australian funnel-web spider (Hadronyche cerberea) might be more dangerous in reality, as 75 percent of its bites involve big venom doses. The good news is that there is an antivenom treatment for both.
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While the vast majority of spiders couldn't hurt a human if they wanted to, most still boast venom for subduing prey. The exceptions are two spider families: Holarchaeidae and Uloboridae. According to Mammola and his co-authors, Holarchaeidae spiders (there are only a couple known species) have venom glands, but there is no opening in them, making them essentially vestigial. Uloboridae, or hackled orb weavers, puke digestive enzymes all over their prey to digest them instead of injecting them with venom.
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The crab from Disney's "Moana" has nothing on the jumping spider Cosmophasis umbratica. Females of this tropical spider species are rather plain, but males are dressed to the nines. Their black, white and yellow markings all reflect ultraviolet light. In other words, they're the living version of one of those velvet blacklight posters that were so popular in the 1970s.
Scientists have found that the intensity of a male C. umbratica's shine communicates something to females about his quality as a mate. The shine is risky, though; researchers have also found that predators, such as the jumping spider Portia labiate, cue in to the ultraviolet reflections when pouncing on their prey.
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It's rare to track a given spider throughout its life span, but at least one Australian arachnid lived to an impressive 43 years of age. The spider, a trapdoor spider (Gaius villosus), which unwittingly participated in a research project that started in 1974, probably died when a parasitic wasp broke into her burrow, scientists reported in May 2018.
While Number 16, as scientists knew her, was the longest-living spider individual, different species usually get credited as the most likely to reach retirement age. Hickmania troglodytes, the Tasmanian cave spider, likely lives for multiple decades, and some tarantulas make it to age 30 in captivity.
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Not to haunt your dreams or anything, but the spider Nephila pilipes can lay more than 3,000 eggs at once — perhaps as many as 9,700, according to a 2002 paper in the journal Oikos. The largest egg mass sampled in that study weighed a quarter of an ounce (6.9 grams). That's the weight of a standard packet of bread yeast, for comparison's sake.
The very fecund spider at hand is a golden orb-web spider found in Asia and Australia. The males grow to only about 0.2 inches (5 mm) in body length, while those egg-laying females can be nearly 2 inches (50 mm) long.
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Trap-jaw spiders are tiny, but deadly. Their chelicerae, the little claw-like appendages by a spider's mouth, are capable of snapping shut on prey in a fraction of a second. The fastest recorded, a species of Zearchaea, completed its attack in a stunning 0.00012 seconds. (It took high-speed videography to even see what was happening.)
Trap-jaw spiders, known scientifically as Mecysmaucheniidae, live in New Zealand and South America. They get their jaw power from adaptions in their muscles and muscle attachments that essentially make their jaws act like a coiled spring, poised to explode with energy when triggered.
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Evarcha culicivora is probably the pickiest eater of the spider world. This jumping spider from East Africa prefers to chow down only on female mosquitoes that have recently drunk their fill of blood.
This preference for a meal with a meal inside has made E. culicivora quite interesting to scientists, because blood-feeding mosquitoes from the genus Anopheles are the vector for the spread of malaria, which kills more than a million people each year. Some researchers have suggested that the spiders might be one way to control the population of Anopheles mosquitoes.
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It doesn't seem possible that much of anything lives in Oymyakon, Russia, much less spiders. But 55 different species call this tiny, insanely frigid town home. Oymyakon is barely south of the Arctic Circle and is the site of the coldest temperatures ever recorded outside of Antarctica. In 2013, the town's weather hit negative 98 degrees Fahrenheit (negative 72 degrees Celsius), its official low. In January 2017, USA Today pointed out that the temperature in Oymyakon at the time was down to negative 88 F (minus 67 C), which is colder than the average temperature on Mars.
The spiders that live in Oymyakon are hardy steppe and forest species, according to a 2004 paper in the journal Arthropoda Selecta. They are typically rather unassuming-looking creatures like Arctella lapponica, a little brown spider also known as a meshweaving spider, or Philodromus alascensis, a spindly species that is part of a family known as the running crab spiders.
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Mammola and his colleagues crowned Argyroneta aquatica the spider species with the strangest habitat, but we're feeling confident in calling this spider the weirdest all around. Better known as the diving bell spider, A. aquatica is the only spider to live a completely aquatic lifestyle.
The spider breathes underwater thanks to special hairs on its abdomen that repel water and trap air, making it possible for the spider to swim without drowning. It also creates a "diving bell" out of spider silk and air bubbles from the surface, which provides a safe base of operations underwater. These two adaptations allow the spiders to hunt small fish and underwater invertebrates, molt, mate and lay eggs, all underwater, according to a 2011 paper in the Journal of Experimental Biology. Within days of emerging from their eggs in their mother's diving bell, hatchlings head out into the world, spinning tiny new diving bells of their own.
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Oldest spider web
The oldest spider web ever preserved comes from a 110-million-year-old chunk of amber from San Just, Spain. This incredible fossil holds 26 gossamer threads of spider silk and three unfortunate spider victims. Trapped in the strands are a mite, a small fly and a wasp. The spider creator of the web wasn't preserved, but paleontologists suspect it may have been something like today's orb web spiders, which weave webs in the classic circular shape.