Brief Summary

As treated by Platnick (2013), the spider family Gnaphosidae includes 2147 recognized species, making it one of only seven spider families (out of 112 total) with over 2000 species; nearly 5% of the spider species recognized by Platnick are gnaphosids. According to Ubick (2005), 255 gnaphosid species occur in North America north of Mexico and, although most are in widely distributed genera, most of the species diversity within these genera is concentrated in the western and southwestern portion of this region.

Gnaphosids are primarily ground dwellers and wandering hunters. They are mainly nocturnal or crepuscular (i.e., active at dawn and dusk) and are found in leaf litter, beneath rocks, and within and under decomposing wood. Some synanthropic species occur in and around buildings (e.g., in North America, the native Parson Spider [Herpyllus ecclesiasticus] and the introduced European Mouse Spider [Scotophaeus blackwalli] and Eurasian Urozelotes rusticus) (Ubick 2005; Bradley 2013).

Gnaphosids do not build webs. They use silk only for draglines, retreats, and egg sacs. The egg sacs may be constructed within a retreat and guarded by the female or secured to the substrate and either guarded or abandoned. The egg sacs of at least some species are flat with a swollen center and made of a parchment-like silk. Gnaphosids are mostly generalized predators, feeding on a wide range of prey, including other spiders and ants (Ubick 2005; Bradley 2013).  Micaria species are ant mimics and, unlike most gnaphosids, are diurnally active, associated with various ant species, and often found in the same sunny habitats where ants are common (Platnick and Shadab 1988; Bradley 2013). (Ubick 2005 and references therein).

The anterior spinnerets of gnaphosids are cylindrical and widely separated and often extend conspicuously beyond the end of the abdomen. Like most spiders, gnaphosids have eight eyes, but their posterior median eyes are often unusually bright. These eyes have an unusual flattened surface and are oval in shape. (Bradley 2013)  The normal dome-shaped focusing lens in these modified eyes has been lost and the flattened, irregularly shaped eye surface is frequently ridged. It seems clear that these highly modified posterior median eyes do not function in normal vision, i.e., do not focus an image. Instead, they appear to be specialized for detecting light polarization. (Platnick 2002) Mueller and Labhart (2010) investigated the mechanism of polarization vision in the gnaphosid Drassodes cupreus. Spiders of this species have been shown to use polarization cues to find their way back to the nest after foraging trips (Dacke et al. 1999; Dacke et al. 2001 reviewed detection of polarized light by spiders more broadly).

Platnick (2013) recognizes 121 gnaphosid genera. According to Ubick (2005), 24 of these occur in North America north of Mexico and Ubick provides the following summary of the broader geographic distribution of these North American genera (genera now present in, but not native to, North America are marked with an asterisk):

Worldwide: Drassodes, Micaria, *Urozelotes, Zelotes

Holarctic: Callilepis, Gnaphosa, Haplodrassus, Parasyrisca, Talanites

Nearctic: Herpyllus, Orodrassus, Scopoides, Sosticus

North America: Cesonia, Litopyllus, Nodocion, Sergiolus

Nearctic and Neotropical: Drassyllus

Neotropical: Gertschosa

Neotropical and African: Camillina

Gondwanan to South Nearctic: Eilica

Palearctic: *Scotophaeus, *Synaphosus, *Trachyzelotes

  • Bradley, R.A. 2013. Common Spiders of North America. University of California Press, Berkeley.
  • Dacke, M., T.A. Doan, and D.C. O'Carroll. 2001. Polarized light detection in spiders. The Journal of Experimental Biology 204: 2481-2490.
  • Dacke, M., D.-E. Nilsson, E.J. Warrant, et al.1999. Built-in polarizers form part of a compass organ in spiders. Nature 401: 470-473.
  • Mueller, K.P. and T. Labhart. 2010. Polarizing optics in a spider eye. Journal of Comparative Physiology A 196: 335-348.
  • Platnick, N.I. and M.U. Shadab. 1988. A Revision of the American Spiders of the Genus Micaria (Araneae, Gnaphosidae). American Museum Novitates No. 2916: 1-64.
  • Platnick, N.I. 2002. A Revision of the Australasian Ground Spiders of the Families Ammoxenidae, Cithaeronidae, Gallieniellidae, and Trochanteriidae (Araneae: Gnaphosoidea). Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History No. 271. 243 pp., 661 figures, 50 maps
  • Platnick, N. I. 2013. The world spider catalog, version 14.0. American Museum of Natural History, online at http://research.amnh.org/entomology/spiders/catalog/index.html
  • Ubick, D.. 2005. Gnaphosidae. Pp. 106-111 in D. Ubick, P. Paquin, P.E. Cushing, and V. Roth (eds.) Spiders of North America: an Identification Manual. American Arachnological Society.
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Comprehensive Description



  • Deltshev, Christo, Komnenov, Marjan, Blagoev, Gergin, Georgiev, Teodor, Lazarov, Stoyan, Stojkoska, Emilija, Naumova, Maria (2013): Faunistic diversity of spiders (Araneae) in Galichitsa mountain (FYR Macedonia). Biodiversity Data Journal 1, 977: 977-977, URL:http://dx.doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.1.e977
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Gnaphosidae Pocock, 1898

  • Candek, Klemen, Gregoric, Matjaz, Kostanjsek, Rok, Frick, Holger, Kropf, Christian, Kuntner, Matjaz, Miller, Jeremy A., Hoeksema, Bert W. (2013): Targeting a portion of central European spider diversity for permanent preservation. Biodiversity Data Journal 1, 980: 980-980, URL:http://dx.doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.1.e980
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Hoeksema, Bert W.

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
Specimen Records: 1623
Specimens with Sequences: 1423
Specimens with Barcodes: 1375
Species: 173
Species With Barcodes: 159
Public Records: 222
Public Species: 34
Public BINs: 40
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Barcode data

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Ground spider

Ground spiders (family Gnaphosidae) include nearly 2,000 described species in over 100 genera, distributed worldwide. This makes the family the seventh largest known. New species are still being discovered. They are closely related to Clubionidae.[1]

Common genera include Gnaphosa, Drassodes, Micaria, Cesonia, Zelotes and many others.

There are 105 species known to central Europe.[2]

Description[edit source | edit]

Generally, ground spiders are characterized by having barrel-shaped anterior spinnerets that are one spinneret diameter apart. The main exception to this rule is found in the ant-mimicking genus Micaria. Another characteristic is an indentation in the endites (paired mouthparts anterior and lateral to the labium, or lip). All ground spiders lack a prey-capture web and generally run prey down on the surface. They hunt at night and spend the day in a silken retreat.[1] The thick-walled egg sacs are guarded by the mother until the spiderlings hatch.[1]

Human interaction[edit source | edit]

At present, no ground spiders are known to be seriously venomous to humans.

Images[edit source | edit]

See also[edit source | edit]

Footnotes[edit source | edit]

  1. ^ a b c Nieuwenhuys 2000
  2. ^ Blick, T. et al. (2004).Checklist of the spiders of Central Europe. (Arachnida: Araneae). Version 1. Dezember 2004. (PDF)

References[edit source | edit]

  • Platnick, N.I. & Shadab, M.U. (1983): A revision of the American spiders of the genus Zelotes (Araneae, Gnaphosidae). Bulletin of the AMNH 174: 99-191. PDF (29Mb) - Abstract
  • Ed Nieuwenhuys (2000): Spiders of NW-Europe Retrieved Jan 3, 2007. (with color pictures of some species)
  • Platnick, Norman I. (2007): The world spider catalog, version 8.0. American Museum of Natural History.
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