November 2023 Spider of the Month

The November Spider of the Month (SOTM) is this wolf spider (Lycosidae), photographed by Cecile Roux in Dwarskersbos, Western Cape. We are not sure what genus this one belongs to, and it is most likely one of the many undescribed/new lycosid species that Cecile has found in the Western Cape. Since they’re mostly found on white-sand beaches, one could call them “white beach wolf spiders” for now.

Cecile said the following about this spider:

“These small but beautiful white wolf spiders are quite common on the open sand next to the beach at Dwarskersbos, blending in with the white sand and grey salt bushes. They like to hide under dry mussel shells, and are quite curious when one comes closer, they do not run away like most of the other spiders. I am not yet sure if some of the sand and silk retreats under the shells are theirs, or if they just use the retreats made by the Asemesthes that are also abundant in the same area.”

Lycosidae (from the Greek word “lycos”) means “wolf”, or “tears like a wolf” (think lycanthropy, which is the supernatural affliction of turning into a werewolf). In Greek mythology, there was also the story of the king of Arcadia, named Lycaon, who was turned into a wolf by Zeus.

In Southern Africa, most wolf spiders are free-living hunters (except for Hippasa spp., which are funnel-web dwellers). Of these free-living hunters, LycosaGeolycosa, and Hogna are burrow dwellers, and Pirata species are associated with fresh water. On rare occasions, they can be found on the leaves and flowers of small plants. Most species are nocturnal and rely on their very good night vision to spot prey. Unlike the name suggests, they don’t often chase after their prey like wolves, but mostly rather sit and wait until prey passes them, and then pounce on it. They are very easy to spot at night with a headlamp, and the tapetum lucidum, which is a reflective layer behind the eyes that is present in other nocturnal hunters like cats, foxes, owls, etc., reflects the light from far away. They are also the only spiders that carry their young on their backs.

There are 113 recorded species in South Africa. Even though some Afrian genera (HippasosaTrabeaEvippommaPardosaTricassaHippasaMinicosa, and Pterartoria) were rather recently revised, this whole family is still in dire need of revision, and many new and undescribed species remain.

This is Cecile’s first SOTM, even though she has been nominated 56 times. Of 180 people who voted, she received 97 votes. It was a very close contest between the top 3, and only on the last day she pulled ahead with a six-vote margin. Congratulations, Cecile!