Eastern Parson Spider Male vs Female: Spot the Differences

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Eastern parson spiders are fascinating creatures, known for their unique appearance and a distinctive white pattern on their abdomen. Studying the differences between male and female parson spiders can help us understand their biology and behavior better.

Male and female eastern parson spiders, scientifically known as Herpyllus ecclesiasticus, do exhibit some differences in size, color, and markings. Males tend to be smaller, while females often grow larger with an abdomen that exhibits a more pronounced white pattern, resembling a clerical collar worn in the past by clergy. This pattern is the primary reason for their common name “parson spider.”

A closer examination of their physical features can reveal interesting aspects of their morphology and habits. As we learn more about the eastern parson spider’s sex-specific characteristics, we gain further insight into the natural world and explore exciting topics in the field of entomology.

Eastern Parson Spider Overview


Eastern Parson Spider, or Herpyllus ecclesiasticus, is a member of the ground spiders family. Some key classifications of the Eastern Parson Spider are:

  • Class: Arachnida
  • Order: Araneae
  • Family: Gnaphosidae
  • Genus: Herpyllus

Araneae Order

Araneae, also known as spiders, belong to the class Arachnida. They are a diverse group with around 120,000 species. Some features of the Araneae order include:

  • 8 legs
  • Venomous fangs
  • Produces silk for various purposes


Eastern Parson Spiders have a unique appearance, with a combination of black, gray, and chestnut brown colors. The female and male spiders have some differences in size and coloration. A comparison table for these differences is as follows:

Gender Size Coloration
Female Up to 15mm Black & Gray
Male Up to 12mm Lighter & Less distinct gray

The common name “Parson Spider” is derived from the distinctive white dorsal pattern on the abdomen, which somewhat resembles a clerical collar worn in the past by clergy members. The spider’s most noticeable features include:

  • Flat-lying black hairs on the cephalothorax
  • Gray hairs on the abdomen
  • Chestnut brown exoskeleton on the legs

Eastern Parson Spiders are a part of the ground spiders group, known for their agile hunting abilities and impressive speed.

Physical Features

Color and Markings

The Eastern Parson Spider, scientifically known as Herpyllus ecclesiasticus, has a distinct color pattern. They have:

  • Flat-lying black hairs on the cephalothorax
  • Gray hairs on their abdomen
  • A chestnut brown exoskeleton, easily seen on their legs

A key feature of their appearance is a white mark on their abdomen, which resembles a clerical collar and gives them the name “parson spider” 1.

Male vs Female Size

Differences in size between male and female Eastern parson spiders are not drastic. However, it’s essential to note that:

  • Females are generally slightly larger than males
  • Males often appear more slender, with longer legs
Gender Average Size
Male Smaller
Female Larger

Reproductive Organs

The reproductive system of parson spiders, like all spiders, is unique. The male spider uses specially adapted appendages called pedipalps to transfer sperm to the female spider during mating 2. In general, spiders have the following reproductive characteristics:

  • Unique anatomy for internal fertilization
  • Male’s courtship behavior adapted to increase survival chances during mating
  • Female spiders may sometimes eat the male after mating

In summary, Eastern Parson Spiders have distinctive color patterns on their cephalothorax, abdomen, and legs. There is a slight difference in size between males and females. The spiders exhibit unique anatomy and behavior related to reproduction, with males using their pedipalps for internal fertilization.

Behavior and Habitat


Eastern parson spiders (Herpyllus ecclesiasticus) are skilled hunters, primarily active at night. They do not use webs for capturing prey, and instead, they actively search for insects and other arthropods to consume. Some examples of their prey include:

  • Flies
  • Ants
  • Beetles


As the temperature drops in the fall, these spiders prepare to hibernate by seeking shelter under:

  • Stones
  • Logs
  • Bark
  • Leaves

During this time, their range does not spread far from their habitat, reducing the chance of encountering predators.

Maternal Care

Female parson spiders show remarkable care for their egg sac. They carry it around and protect it from potential threats. Upon hatching, the spiderlings remain in the same habitat as their mother, gradually developing into adults.

Selected characteristics of Eastern Parson Spider

Female Male
Larger in size Smaller in size
Protects egg sac No parental care
Longer lifespan Shorter lifespan

Distribution and Habitat

  • Eastern parson spiders are commonly found in North America, ranging from the USA to Canada.
  • They inhabit a variety of natural environments, like forests and grasslands, as well as human dwellings.
  • Preferred hiding spots include rocks, logs, and leaves.

Overall, the Eastern Parson Spider is a fascinating and adaptable arachnid species, thriving in various habitats and exhibiting unique behaviors within the world of spiders.

Geographical Distribution

North America

The Eastern Parson Spider, scientifically known as Herpyllus ecclesiasticus, can be found across parts of North America. This species is widespread, with a significant presence in the following areas:

  • Rocky Mountains: The spider thrives in these mountainous regions.
  • Alberta: This Canadian province is home to Parson Spiders as well.
  • Florida: The spiders can be found in the southeastern United States, including this state.

Some characteristics of the Eastern Parson Spider in these regions include:

  • Flat-lying hairs on the cephalothorax
  • Chestnut brown exoskeleton
  • Distinctive white dorsal pattern on the abdomen


In addition to North America, the Eastern Parson Spider can also be found in Mexico. However, their presence in Mexico is not as well-documented as in other locations. The spiders are widely distributed across the country and may have similar population densities to those found in the United States and Canada.

Comparison Table

Feature Eastern Parson Spider – North America Eastern Parson Spider – Mexico
Habitat Rocky Mountains, Alberta, Florida Throughout Mexico
Exoskeleton Color Chestnut brown Chestnut brown
Distinctive Dorsal Pattern Yes Yes

Overall, the Eastern Parson Spider is a ubiquitous creature endemic to North American and Mexican regions. Their consistent characteristics make them easily identifiable in any of their habitats.

Venom and Bites


The Eastern Parson Spider (Herpyllus ecclesiasticus) is known for its distinctive white dorsal pattern on the abdomen, resembling a clerical collar (^1^). Although spider bites are a common concern, Parson Spider bites are typically not dangerous and cause only mild symptoms. Some possible symptoms resulting from a spider bite include itching or rash, and pain radiating from the site of the bite.

Allergic Reactions

While most people experience only mild symptoms following a Parson Spider bite, others may develop an allergic reaction, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. In rare cases, a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) can be life-threatening. Some symptoms of an allergic reaction to a spider bite may include:

  • Increased sweating
  • Muscle pain or cramping
  • Reddish to purplish color or blister around the bite

In case of severe allergic reactions, immediate medical attention is necessary.

Similar Species

Herpyllus Propinquus

Herpyllus Propinquus, commonly known as the close cousin spider, is a close relative of the Eastern Parson Spider. Both of these species share some similarities; however, there are a few distinctions between them, making identification easier.

  • Body size: Both male and female Herpyllus Propinquus spiders are smaller in size compared to their Parson Spider counterparts.
  • Coloration: Herpyllus Propinquus tend to have a duller color, with brown or gray hues, compared to the vibrant black and white markings found on the Eastern Parson Spider.
  • Habitat: While Eastern Parson Spiders can be found in various habitats, Herpyllus Propinquus prefers grasslands and open fields rather than dense foliage or forested areas.

In addition to the Eastern Parson Spider and the Herpyllus Propinquus, there are several other spider species that one might encounter, such as Orbweavers. Orbweavers are web-spinning spiders that come in various sizes and shapes. They differ from Parson Spiders in several aspects, including:

  • Web-spinning: Orbweavers are known for their intricate, orb-shaped webs, while Eastern Parson Spiders and Herpyllus Propinquus spiders do not spin webs but instead rely on hunting and ambushing their prey.
  • Body structure: Orbweavers tend to have larger, more rounded abdomens compared to the elongated and flat body shapes found in Parson Spiders and Herpyllus Propinquus.
Feature Eastern Parson Spider Herpyllus Propinquus Orbweavers
Body size Medium Small Varies
Coloration Black and white Brown/gray Varies
Habitat Various Grasslands, open fields Forests, gardens
Web-spinning No No Yes
Hunting method Ambush Ambush Capture in web

When studying spiders, Pearson Education offers resources on various spider species and their characteristics. This can provide valuable information for anyone trying to identify or learn more about these fascinating creatures.

References and Sources

The Eastern Parson Spider, scientifically known as Herpyllus ecclesiasticus, is a distinct species with noticeable differences between male and female spiders. Here’s a concise list of references and sources on this subject:

  • The Penn State Extension offers detailed information about the Parson Spider’s physical features, such as the distinctive white dorsal pattern on its abdomen – resembling a clerical collar.

  • In the Common Florida Spiders resource by EDIS, the focus is on various spiders found in Florida, providing information about the Eastern Parson Spider as well.

  • For a deeper dive into spider identification, the UCR Spider Research website points out distinguishing characteristics between the Eastern Parson Spider and other species, such as the Brown Recluse Spider.

To make it easier to understand the differences between male and female Eastern Parson Spiders, here’s a comparison table:

Characteristic Males Females
Size Smaller Larger
Color Darker Brown Lighter Brown
Body Shape Slimmer More Robust

Some distinct features of Eastern Parson Spiders include:

  • A unique white dorsal pattern on the abdomen
  • Hairy body with flat-lying black and gray hairs
  • Chestnut brown exoskeleton on the legs

Following are some pros and cons of observing Eastern Parson Spiders:


  • Non-aggressive, rarely bite humans
  • Consume pests such as insects


  • Some people may be naturally afraid of spiders

In conclusion, Eastern Parson Spiders exhibit remarkable differences between the two sexes. The provided references and sources will further help in understanding the various aspects of these fascinating creatures.


  1. Penn State Extension

  2. Cornell University

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Parson Spider


Subject: Spider
Location: St louis Missuri
March 9, 2016 11:06 pm
What type of spider is this ?
Is it poisinus?
Signature: Spider man

Parson Spider
Parson Spider

Dear Spider man,
This distinctive spider is a Parson Spider in the genus 
Herpyllus, probably Herpyllus ecclesiasticus.  Like most spiders, it has venom, and like most spiders, it is not considered dangerous to humans.  It is unlikely that it will bite a person, and if a bite does occur, there will likely be nothing more than local irritation.


  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

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  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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