March 2022 Spider of the Month

Our March 2022 spider of the month (SOTM) is this hedgehog spider (Pycnacantha cf. tribulus) in the orb-web spider family (Araneidae), taken by Geoff Lockwood. He found the spider in Lakenvlei, Mpumalanga, in calf-high grass, busy guarding her egg sac.

Pycnacantha means “thick (or densely) thorned”, originating from the Greek pyknon (thick, dense) and akantha (thorn). There are only four described species in the world; all of them occurring in Africa and nowhere else. We have only one recorded species in South Africa, but an undescribed species has been found in Oudtshoorn. There may also be other undescribed species.

These spiders build a V-shaped web between low vegetation at night, and hang from it, waiting for flying prey like moths. Like the bolas spiders (Cladomelea spp.), they are also suspected to produce a sex pheromone that lures moths, but unlike the bolas spiders, who use a bolas to catch prey, the hedgehog spiders catch prey in flight with their legs.

This is the second Pycnacantha that has won SOTM; the first one being in February 2021. They are rather rare and impressive spiders, so it’s understandable that any Pycnacantha stands a good chance in winning!