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Unidentified spiderlings at Clark Creek, Mississippi
Dear Bugman
A couple of years ago I visited the Clark Creek Natural Area in southwestern Mississippi. I took this picture of some spiderlings ballooning from a twig. I wonder if you can tell the species name or narrow it down to a few possible species? My initial guess is Atypus bicolor (Sphodros rufipes)? but I am not familiar with US spiders. Thank you in advance.
Sincerely J. Lissner

Hi J.,
Honestly, we can’t be certain, but we love the possibility that these are Red Legged Purse Web Spiderlings, and that is good enough for us. They resemble that endangered species.

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red legged purseweb
Great site!!! Thanks for helping me to identify this scary looking spider. Since your ’03 description says this spider is very rare, I figured I’d let you know that they seem to like my yard… We live in Atlanta, GA – in Buckhead to be precise, very close to high rise buildings in an old residential neighborhood. I saw one of these spiders last year, but my baby-sitter squashed it beyond recognition, so I couldn’t really tell what it was. I saw another 2 days ago crawling VERY fast near my trash bins. And, today, one was right up next to the house, crawling right towards me and the girls. Sorry, I squished it. But, with the killed picture and memory, it was definitely the ‘red legged purseweb’. I’ll keep an eye out for the webs. Is it still endangered?? I’ll try not to stomp so quickly in the future.
Margaret

Hi Margaret,
We have gotten numerous letters in the past week with Red Legged Purseweb Spider sitings. Guess they are making a comeback.

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Dear Sir
My son has today brought in what we believe to be a purse web spider. It is exactly like the one photographed on your site, sent in by “Bruce”. After further research on the internet however, we failed to find any mention of or find any photographs of purse webs with red legs. This one we have has very distinctive red legs and black body. My 11 yr old son who reads nature books constantly, suggests that this may be a female and that it is the males who have the black legs. Could this be true? Other sites state that it is not threatened or on any conservation list. Is this accurate? Also, we read that it is most commonly found in England which is ironic as I am from England & we are in fact visiting next week and so will be carefully looking for more of these little spiders whilst there! Maybe we unwittingly brought one back with us last year! What would you advise us to do with it? Of course if it is not endangered then we will release it, but if there is anything we can do or anyone we should contact here if it is in the spider’s interest, then we will be glad to help. A few years ago, I found a northern brown recluse & after contacting a university in California, mailed it to a researcher. It thankfully arrived alive and well! He was researching how far south the northern recluse was progressing & confirmed that our identification was correct. We will await with anticipation any further information you are able to give us about this spider and in the meantime my son is keeping it safe and well fed! Regards,
Janice Barner
Newnan, Georgia, USA

Hi Janice,
We are getting numerous reports of sitings recently. Our Comstock book identifies this spider as Atypus bicolor and writes: “The male is a very striking spider with black carapace, abdomen and palpi, and the legs carmine-red.” He also says the females average an inch or more in length and are colored dark brown with a black margin on the cephalothorax. There are Atypus species in Europe. Gertsch writes extensively on Atypus bicolor: “This species occurs from Maryland south into western Florida, and westward into Mississippi. They live for the most part in mesophytic woods. … The tube of Atypus takes form in a characteristic manner. the female spins a small, horizontal funnel or cell on the surface of the soil, and from this base works both upward to lay out the aerial tube, and downward into the soil. The funnel is pierced above, and a two inch section of vertical tube is set up against a tree. This design is accomplished by laying down many single lines and spinning the whole together into a strong fabric. The spider then begins excavating and spinning the subterranean part of her habitation. she molds the soil into small pellets, which she disposes of through the opening at the top of the aerial web. The covering of debris over the surface of the tube comes, surprisingly, form within the burrow — instead of being laid on from the outside: the sand and small particles are pressed outward through the web until the whole surface is evenly covered. After the first section of aerial tube is completed, another length is spun and coated with sand. Thus by sections the web moves up the side of the tree, until it attains the full length for the species. Like an iceberg, the finished tube penetrates the ground much farther than the length of its visible, aerial portion. It is heavily lined with silk, which becomes stronger day by day as the spinnerets constantly lay down their dense bands. … The Purse-Web Spider remains just inside the subterranean portion of her nest while waiting for prey, but at the slightest notice of a passing insect she moves into the aerial web. Her course is charted by the movement of the tube, and when the insect crawls over the surface, she rushes to the proper point and strikes her long fangs through the web, around or into the body of her prey. Holding it until completely subdued, she at the same time cuts the tube and pulls it inside. A slight rent is left in the silk, which will later be sewed together, and in due time covered over with sand so evenly that no sign of the break is evident. A tidy housekeeper, Atypus when through feeding brings the shrunken remnant of her prey to the opening at the top of her web ande casts it out. In the same way, she voids her milky white, liquid fecal material through the opening — with such force that it is shot several inches away. In June the males become adult and leave their webs to wander in dearch of a mate. Until the time they become fully adult they live in nests that are to all appearances identical with those of the females, and occasionally in season they can still be found in the tubes. … Females of all the American species are predominantly brown in color, shining, and only very sparsely set with covering hairs. The robust body is provided with quite short legs and long chelicerae, and runs about half an inch in length — although bicolor, the largest known species is often an inch in length. The males are similar to the females in most respects, but have longer legs. … Atypus bicolor has carmine legs, which, contrasting with its deep-black carapace and abdomen, make it the most striking of all our species.”

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Sphodros rufpes
My 7 year old son, and my wife found a great specimen of a Red-legged Purse Spider in our neighborhood here in Mt Juliet, TN. It is a text-book example. I noted on your site that this spider has been found in only 4 locations in Tennesee. I am wondering if Mt Juliet or the Nashville vicinity is one of those areas. Here is the photo of the little critter. He was found next to a scrub at my neighbors front door. I had my 7 year old son put him back and took opportunity to explain about extinction and endangerment….a nice life lesson !! I’ll bug off for now. Hope the photo is helpful.
Bruce, Nathan, and Kathi McLaughlin
Mt Juliet, TN

Hi Bruce,
Your photo is just beautiful. We have been getting many letters regarding this species lately which we originally identified under the scientific name Sphodros rufipes. We have found information in old texts under the scientific name Atypus bicolor. It might be rare and endangered or it might not, depending upon the source. At any rate, it is an awesome spider and your photo is great as well. We have actually devoted an entire page to the Red Legged Purseweb Spider thanks to your letter and image. We have read that June is the month when males leave their webs and search for a June bride.

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Saw this bug crawling around on the front of our house and front stoop. It has 8 red legs and looks like it has three segments. Is this a spider? I’d hate to find this crawling around on my bed one night. Should we be concerned about this bug? We live on the east coast.
Bruce

Dear Bruce,
It’s a spider. I’m not sure exactly what, but it is impressive. I will
continue to try to identify it. How large was it? Where on the east coast?

Daniel,
We live in Calvert County, Maryland. The spider was about 3/4″ long. Let me
know what you find out. This is a scary looking spider for sure!
Bruce

Dear Bruce,
I have been obsessed with your spider.After hours online, I found it. It is one of three spiders on the endangered species list in Maryland, and is also endangered in most of its range. It seems to be most common in Alabama, though fire ants and armadillos have harmed its numbers there as well. I hope your red legged purseweb spider is still among the living. Here is some additional information I copied from a site. Thank you for your awesome photo. Sphodros rufipes Found in Alabama The First Recorded Distribution of the Purseweb Spider, Sphodros rufipes (Family Atypidae), from Alabama. Rose M. Parrino, W. Mike Howell,Ph.D., and Ronald L. Jenkins,Ph.D., Department of Biology, Samford University, Birmingham, AL 35229 The spider family Atypidae represents an ancient branch of the infraorder Mygalomorphae. These large, primitive spiders have been recorded for most of the southeastern United States, but no records have been documented for the State of Alabama. It is the purpose of this report to officially record the purseweb spider, Sphodros rufipes Latreille from Alabama. These spiders are referred to as “purseweb spiders” because of the tough, tubular web which they construct in the ground at the base of a tree and extend aerially up the side of the tree attaching it to the tree’s bark. The web is further camouflaged by the addition of lichens, algae, dead leaf bits, dirt and other debris to its surface. When an insect disturbs the web’s surface, the purseweb spider reacts by biting its prey through the tube, cutting a slit, repairing the slit, and awaiting another meal. According to Gertsch and Platnick (1980, Amer. Mus. Novitates No. 2704: 1-39, figs. 1-60), S. rufipes previously has been found at four sites in Tennessee, two in North Carolina, one in Georgia, six in northern Florida, two in Mississippi, four in Louisiana, and one in Texas. A population of Sphodros rufipes was discovered at the Ruffner Mountain Nature Center, Jefferson County, AL, (T 17S, R 2W, sec 13) on 16 Oct. 1997. The aerial portion of the web was approximately 140 mm above the ground and a uniform 20 mm in its width. Only 10-12 mm of the top portion of the tube was attached to tree, and this portion of the tube was white and not camouflaged. When the underground portion of the web, which extended to approximately 160 mm, was excavated and the tubular web was removed, it was found to contain a large female spider, 25 mm in total body length. The web also contained approximately 228 spiderlings, each about 2.5 mm in total body length. All spiderlings, except for 10 specimens, were returned to the site. The 10 spiderlings and the adult female were preserved for scientific documentation and deposited in the American Museum of Natural History. The adult specimen was examined by Dr. Norman Platnick, who verified it as S. rufipes.

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination