February 2021 Spider of the Month

The spider of the month is this hedgehog spider (Pycnacantha sp.; most likely P. tribulus) photographed by Marique Kirwan in the Schurveberg mountains, Gauteng, South Africa. This spider received 41% of the votes.

The spider was found perching on a low branch of a karee tree, with one strand of silk attached to a leaf next to her. Marique’s friend, who found the spider, said: “This was the most amazing spider I have ever seen! I love spiders. Usually I look out for crab spiders and bark spiders (my favourites to date), and love watching the hairy field spiders, etc., so I don’t think I’m blind to spiders, but this one was just amazing!”

There are only four recorded species in the world, all of them occurring only in Africa, with one recorded species in South Africa. There is another undescribed species that was found in Oudtshoorn.

Pycnacantha” most likely means “dense thorns”, from the Greek pyknon (closely packed, crowded, dense) and akantha (thorn). There are a few spiders with the suffix “acantha”, and they’re all “spiky” spiders, such as Afracantha, Gasteracantha, Austracantha, Thelacantha, etc.

These spiders hunt at night by hanging onto their web (basically a reduced orb web where only a trapezium remains) by their hind legs, with their front legs open, waiting for moths to pass by, which are then caught in flight.