What Do Nursery Web Spiders Eat? A Quick Guide to Their Diet

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Nursery web spiders are fascinating creatures that can often be found in tall grass, wooded edges, and shrubs. They belong to the family Pisauridae and are known for their unique method of creating a protective “nursery” for their young. But have you ever wondered what these spiders eat?

Like other spiders, nursery web spiders are carnivorous and rely on catching other insects for sustenance. Their diet primarily consists of flies, mosquitoes, and other small insects they can catch in their webs or by hunting. With their long legs and agile bodies, they can efficiently track down and capture these prey in their natural habitats.

Species Description

Physical Characteristics

Nursery web spiders are known for their elongated bodies and long legs that can span up to three inches. These spiders display various colors, ranging from pale grey-brown to dark brown, sometimes with white or gray markings. Their body structure often helps them blend in with plant or grass stalks when they position themselves with legs outstretched before and behind them. Here are some key features:

  • Elongated bodies
  • Long legs with up to a three-inch spread
  • Colors: Pale grey-brown, dark brown, white, or gray markings

Nursery Web Spiders Vs Other Spiders

Comparing them to other spiders, nursery web spiders fall into the same category of invertebrates and arthropods as wolf spiders and fishing spiders. However, they have distinct differences in their behaviors and physical characteristics. Here’s a comparison table:

Spider Type Nursery Web Spiders Wolf Spiders Fishing Spiders
Eye Arrangement Eight eyes in two rows Eight eyes in three rows Similar to nursery web spiders
Web Construction Build a “nursery tent” to protect their hatching young No webs; hunt on the ground No webs; some may hunt near water
Hunting Behavior Capture prey with their legs or webs Active hunters; Use fast speed and good vision Active hunters; Use their legs to sense vibrations on the water
Size Adults can reach up to an inch in size Varies, with some species reaching up to 1.38 inches Can be up to 3 inches; Large size helps them hunt bigger prey

In summary, you can identify nursery web spiders by their elongated bodies, long legs, and color variations. They differ from related spiders such as wolf spiders and fishing spiders in terms of eye arrangement, hunting behavior, and web construction.

Habitats and Distribution

Common Locations

Nursery web spiders are primarily distributed across North America. You may often find them in areas with tall grass, shrubs, and woodland edges. For example, Dolomedes triton is one of the most commonly encountered spiders in the eastern United States.

These spiders inhabit a variety of habitats, with some common locations including:

  • Grasslands
  • Woodlands
  • Leaves of plants
  • Residential yards

By searching for them in these places, you’ll have a higher chance of spotting these fascinating creatures.

Unique Habitats

Nursery web spiders have a couple of unique habitat preferences. While some prefer living on the ground in grasslands, others like to spend their time in shrubs or trees.

These spiders are quite versatile in terms of their living conditions, making them capable of thriving in various environments. Another interesting aspect of their habitat is their ability to adapt to urban areas, which is not a trait all spiders share.

Keep in mind that although they are primarily found in North America, some species have a widespread global distribution. This versatility is yet another distinguishing feature of nursery web spiders.

Diet of Nursery Web Spiders

Prey

Nursery web spiders primarily consume insects and earthworms. They are known to eat a variety of organisms, including:

  • Flies
  • Crickets
  • Grasshoppers
  • Beetles
  • Moths

Hunting Habits

As active hunters, nursery web spiders typically do not build webs for catching prey. Instead, they rely on their agility and stealth to capture their food.

  • Nursery web spiders use their long legs to stalk and ambush their prey.
  • They employ their strong silk thread to immobilize victims, holding them securely before consuming them.

Combining their adept hunting skills and varied diet, nursery web spiders play an essential role in controlling insect populations within their habitat. By preying on various insect species, they help maintain the delicate balance of their ecosystem.

Reproduction and Lifespan

Egg Protection

Female nursery web spiders carry egg sacs in their jaws to protect their developing offspring. They construct a “nursery tent” just before the eggs hatch, providing further protection to the spiderlings. This protective behavior increases the survival rate of spiderlings, allowing them to reach their first molt and eventually hatch from their eggs. A female spider guards the nursery web diligently, ensuring her young have a safe and secure environment1.

Mating Behaviour

Mating rituals among nursery web spiders are quite interesting. Male spiders present a gift of food to female spiders as a part of their courtship process. This food gift plays a crucial role in the process of copulation2. Males that offer a food gift are significantly more successful in mating with a female counterpart3. Additionally, the act of gift-giving allows the male spider to approach the female safely, reducing potential aggressiveness or rejection from the female. Once the gift is accepted, copulation occurs, and the male spider fertilizes the female’s eggs4.

In summary, the lifespan and reproduction of nursery web spiders involve a combination of protective behavior by females and a unique mating ritual involving food gifts from males. This combination of actions ensures the successful survival and reproduction of their species.

Interaction with Other Species

Predation

Nursery web spiders are predators that mainly feed on insects and other small arthropods. They do not build webs like the common web-making species, but instead, they actively hunt their prey on soil or plants, like wolf spiders, crab spiders, and jumping spiders. As a predator, the nursery web spider plays a vital role in controlling insect populations and maintaining a balance in the ecosystem.

Their hunting technique involves constructing a nursery web, where they closely guard their egg sacs and spiderlings. This makes them very protective and effective predators, ensuring the survival of their offspring.

Spiders and Humans

In general, nursery web spiders are not harmful to humans. They might occasionally enter houses, but they predominantly prefer living in tall grass, shrubs, and along wooded edges (source). Although their bite can cause mild discomfort, it is neither dangerous nor venomous to humans.

Nursery web spiders can also be considered beneficial to humans since they help regulate insect populations. By preying on insects and other pests, they contribute to a more balanced and healthy environment.

Conservation Status

The conservation status of nursery web spiders has not been widely assessed or documented. However, as a crucial part of the ecosystem, maintaining their population is essential. Factors such as habitat loss, excessive pesticide use, or climate change can have an impact on their numbers.

To help conserve the species and protect their habitats, you can take some simple steps:

  • Limit or avoid pesticide use in your garden.
  • Preserve areas with tall grasses and shrubs that serve as habitat.
  • Educate others about the importance and benefits of spiders in the ecosystem.

By understanding and appreciating the role of nursery web spiders in the ecosystem, we can promote their conservation and continue to benefit from their role as a natural pest control agent.

Interesting Facts

Did you know that nursery web spiders are large and can have up to a three-inch leg-spread? These amazing creatures can be found in tall grass, along wooded edges, and in shrubs.

Both wolf spiders and nursery web spiders care for their young in unique ways. For example, female wolf spiders carry their egg sac with them using appendages at the tip of their abdomen, while female nursery web spiders carry their egg sac in their jaws (Virginia Tech).

When it comes to identification, you can recognize nursery web spiders by their large size and distinct maternal behavior. Furthermore, they are part of a group of invertebrates called arthropods, which include other creatures like crayfish, shrimp, millipedes, centipedes, mites, and insects (Missouri Department of Conservation).

As for their diet, nursery web spiders are predators that mainly feed on various arthropods, such as grasshoppers, flies, moths, caterpillars, leafhoppers, some bees and ants, and even other spiders. In fact, spiders as a whole consume more insects than birds and bats combined (Missouri Department of Conservation).

To sum it up, nursery web spiders are fascinating creatures with unique maternal behaviors and a significant role in controlling insect populations. So next time you spot one, take a moment to appreciate their contribution to the ecosystem!

Scientific Classification of Nursery Web Spiders

Nursery web spiders belong to the family Pisauridae, specifically in the genera Pisaurina and Dolomedes. These spiders are part of the class Arachnida, order Araneae, and their scientific classification was established by Eugène Simon.

  • Family: Pisauridae
  • Order: Araneae
  • Class: Arachnida

Two notable species within the family Pisauridae are Pisaurina mira and Pisaura mirabilis. Both species share common traits as nursery web spiders, but they belong to different genera: Pisaurina mira is part of the genus Pisaurina, while Pisaura mirabilis belongs to the genus Dolomedes.

Nursery web spiders are known for their unique reproductive behavior. Male spiders perform intricate courtship rituals to attract females. After mating, females create a nursery web to protect their egg sac and guard the spiderlings after they hatch.

While nursery web spiders can bite if threatened, their bites are generally mild and without lasting effects for humans.

Feature Pisaurina mira Pisaura mirabilis
Genus Pisaurina Dolomedes
Reproductive behavior Nursery web Nursery web
Bite Mild, short-lived Mild, short-lived

To summarize, nursery web spiders comprise a diverse family of spiders with unique reproductive habits. Their scientific classification falls under the family Pisauridae, and examples of species within this family include Pisaurina mira and Pisaura mirabilis.

Footnotes

  1. Common Spiders of Maryland – Maryland’s Wild Acres

  2. Animal Reproductive Strategies | Organismal Biology – gatech.edu

  3. [EggProtection,NurseryWebs,and]]

  4. Sexual Selection on Male Body Size,Food Gifts, and Nets | Annual Review of Entomology

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 – Running Crab Spider

 

Green spider captured
Wed, Jul 8, 2009 at 2:16 PM
I captured this spider at my wife’s request, it was sitting inside the carport.
Haven’t seen a green one before but have seen brown ones.
Steve
Kearns, utah

Nursery Web Spider???
probably Running Crab Spider

Hi Steve,
We believe this is a Nursery Web Spider in the family Pisauridae, which includes the Fishing Spiders. These are large spiders and your photo does not indicate scale, nor does your letter provide any indication of the size. We are uncertain of the exact identification, but we do believe the family is correct. Perhaps one of our readers will be able to provide more specific information.

Update from Eric Eaton
Daniel:
Hard to tell, especially without a size being given, but I would suspect this is actually a running crab spider in the genus Tibellus, family Philodromidae.  A close-up of the eye arrangement would also be telling…..
Eric

 

Letter 2 – Nursery Web Spider with her Eggsac

 

large NC spider in hollow tree
Dear WTB,
I have greatly enjoyed your website. I originally found it when trying to identify the spider in the attached picture. At least i think it was the same kind, because that time i did not get a picture of it. Several months later, amazingly, i saw another one and was able to get a decent picture of it. I live in Durham, NC, and both times i saw this type of spider it was in a local NC State Park (two different parks). Both were originally just outside the hole in a hollow tree. Both skittered back into the
tree in a sort of clicky, crablike, alien way. All i know about the first one is that it was BIG. This one has at least a 3 inch leg span, maybe 4. The first time i was too spooked out to get any closer, because i never got a chance to look at it while it was still. This time it lingered a little longer outside the hole, so i could see that it was at least a spider and not something from another planet. So i looked up in the hole and saw it beside a big white thing. As i was watching, it grabbed the white thing and moved further up in the tree (it was dark, so maybe i was mistaken and the white thing was attached to it / carried by it the whole time instead of beside it… all i know is… when the white thing moved with it, it freaked me out). My friend put his digital camera in the tree, pointed it upward, and blindly took several photographs with the flash. The attached picture turned out to be pretty good and i thought, given the size of what i can only assume is its egg ball, that you would at least find it interesting if you can’t tell me what it is. I thought the egg ball was at least quarter size, but i don’t even want to think about how huge that would make the spider. I’m going with “at least 3 inches” to be safe, since i know the mind can magnify these things in retrospect.
thanks in advance!
jonathan (and terry, the picture-snapper)

Hi Jonathan and Terry,
Fabulous image of a female Dolomedes Fishing Spider, also known as a Nursery Web Spider. These large spiders do not build webs, preferring to stalk their prey. They are usually found near water and can run across the water as well as dive beneath the surface where they can remain for a half an hour. They sometimes catch small fish. That is the eggsac she is carrying. She will protect it fearlessly. When the time comes she will spin a Nursery Web and deposit the eggsac. This is the only web she will spin.

Letter 3 – Unknown Nursery Web Spider from Nevada

 

Nevada. West Tech insect survey
Location: Wheeler Camp Spring in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Blue Diamond, NV
March 25, 2012 6:49 pm
This spider was among many on rocks in a riparian pool. Researching books and bugguide takes me to Dolomedes sp, a fishing spider.
If it is Dolomedes, can you direct me to a key to species for NV or southern CA?
Signature: Bruce Lund

Nursery Web Spider

Hi Bruce,
BugGuide has records of
Dolomedes Fishing Spiders from Arizona, but not Nevada nor California.  In the past, we identified what we thought was a Fishing Spider from Nevada, but Karl who frequently assists in identifications thought it was a Nursery Web Spider in a different genus, specifically Tinus peregrinus.  Eric Eaton has a nice profile of that species on his Bug Eric blog.  Your spider does look remarkably like a Fishing Spider in the genus Dolomedes, but we cannot provide you with any information on how to key out the specimen.  Perhaps on of our readers will be able to provide additional information.

Nursery Web Spider

 

Letter 4 – What’s That Nursery Web Spider doing in North Hollywood???

 

Subject: Hello and hairy spider
Location: Hollywood California
November 25, 2015 8:24 pm
Hello bugman! So at work today we found a nice sized brown spider, and it is not one I have seen before. I work in North Hollywood California at a warehouse near the Burbank airport. We get shipments in from Japan, Korea, & China (and I mention this only if this species is found outside of the US). It is fairly active, and I am assuming that it is a male due to the size of its Pedipalps (I can be totally wrong tho haha). As for its description, it is brown, hairy, roughly about 2 inches wide (with legs spread out). It has eight eyes, 4 in a row stacked (Top are larger, with the 2 center being the biggest)and the 4 below it are much smaller. Its fangs rest underneath it, folded in. I decided to take it home and made a small enclosure for it which is roughly 4x4x8. I have a few more pictures of it if needed, and I hope I can get an ID with the info that I provided haha. Thanks a bunch! You are the best!
Signature: Jeeb

Spider
Spider

Dear Jeeb,
You have us stumped.  The only spider we can think of with this general size and coloration that we would expect to find in Southern California is a Giant Crab Spider,
Olios giganteus, but the front two pairs of legs on your individual look far too short and the chelicerae seem much too light.  What your spider really reminds us of is a Nursery Web Spider like this lovely golden Pisaurina mira pictured on BugGuide, but they do not range into the western states.  It doesn’t appear your individual has spun a web, so we are concluding it is some species that hunts rather than a species that waits to snare prey, but we do not believe this is a Wolf Spider.  We are contacting Eric Eaton and Mandy Howe for some assistance.  Stay tuned.

Spider
Spider

Eric Eaton agrees with our ID of a Nursery Web Spider
Daniel:
I agree it looks most like Pisaurina mira.
Happy Thanksgiving!
Eric
author, Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America
http://bugeric.blogspot.com/

Spider
Spider

Mandy Howe confirms identification
Hi Daniel,
Weird! (In California, I mean.) It looks like a Pisaurina mira to me, too. It’s a penultimate male and it seems “big” so I tried to use the ruler to estimate the size and looks like he’s about 15mm in body length, which is the upper limit for the males already (they’re described as being 10-15mm full grown). Never really seen one of these get transported before, but anything’s possible! Maybe in shrubs or plants from a nursery or something? There are some similar-looking spiders in the family Pisauridae from around the world, but I’d guess our native P. mira would be more likely. I’ll ask around and see if anyone else has seen these in CA. The last time I was surprised was when I saw some hobo spiders from Pickering, Ontario and it turned out to be a “known” established population that arachnologists just hadn’t published or publicly talked about. So I’ll ask about this one too and see if anyone “knows” anything.
(The eye arrangement rules out the Ctenidae species from Central/South America; I just mention that because some ctenids can look similar to this too, and occasionally get transported.)
Happy Thanksgiving to the both of you, too! I’m still in a turkey coma at the moment….
Mandy

Thanks for the confirmation Mandy.  We will attempt to get additional information from Jeeb, or request that he keep an eye out for any females to determine if there is an established population in Southern California.

Hello Daniel,
Thank you very much for this update and I hope you had a good thanksgiving! This has been pretty exciting ha ha, i’ll keep an eye out to see if there are any other of these guys at work, especially if its a female. Where is this species normally found?
I am glad to help out in anyway I can, please let me know if you need anything from me. As for housing it/keeping it, let me know if there is any place I can take it to, or if you guys would be interested in taking it. Ha ha, if I hold onto him it would most likely be as a pet, so if I can take him somewhere that would benefit any sort of research I would be more than happy to oblige.
Thanks again!

Hi again Jeeb,
Pisaurina mira is found in eastern North America and it is nit reported west of Texas according to BugGuide.  We don’t believe Nursery Spiders are commonly kept as pets as they do not live very long.  You can try contacting the LA County Museum of Natural History Spider Survey.  We recently conated a large gopher snake that was struck by a car in front of our offices and we got a very nice behind the scenes tour.

Letter 5 – Possibly Nursery Web Spider from South Africa

 

Subject: What spider is this?
Location: Johannesburg South Africa
December 8, 2016 1:21 pm
Hi there, I found this spider at the doorway of my local McDonalds and had a leg span of about 20cms tip of back legs to top of front legs. It was also really hairy and a guy walked passed it and petted it like it was a furry little kitten.
Signature: Signed?

Possibly Water Spider
Possibly Nursery Web Spider

There is not much detail in your image, so a definitive identification may be impossible, however, the manner in which your spider holds its legs reminds us of the posture of a Nursery Web Spider or Fishing Spider in the family Pisauridae.  This iSpot image shows that posture.  It may be a member of the genus Nilus which is represented on iSpot.

Hi there Daniel,
Thanks for the response, much obliged…. guess I always hope that what I’ve found was some super rare, over poisonous mutant spider…. but it’s never the case, lol!
Cheers!!
Regards,
Keeran Singh

Letter 6 – Probably Nursery Web Spider from Costa Rica

 

Subject:  What kind of spider could this be?
Geographic location of the bug:  Costa Rica
Date: 11/26/2017
Time: 11:19 PM EDT
Hi there! This guy was trying to rent a room from us (in South Caribbean of Costa Rica). We successfully removed him from our front door, but curious what kind he was?
How you want your letter signed:  Thanks

Probably Nursery Web Spider

We believe this is a Nursery Web Spider in the family Pisauridae, possibly one of the Fishing Spiders, but its markings are unusual.

Authors

  • 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.

    View all posts
  • 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.

    View all posts
Tags: Nursery Web Spider

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