Observations. Night #2

My reaction when, after 2 hours of watching spiders do nothing, they start mating

(which isn’t actually what I wanted)

My face when the other male got in on the action and thetwo males started fighting

(which is exactly what I want)

And finally, how I felt when one male impaled the other on its fang and began to eat his dying foe


Do you live in Auckland?

Do you have giant spider sheet-webs in the back yard which look a little like this?


Then you are probably the proud owner of a New Zealand sheet-web spider!

Male sheet-web spider

Hurray for you

But seriously. I am currently collecting these males for my doctoral thesis and am keen to hear from anyone who has them in their backyard. In particular, these males tend to wander around in the summer and have a very good/bad habit of falling into people’s bathtubs and not being able to get out again.

Webs can be up to a metre across but will generally be closer to 30 by 30 cm. Spiders can be seen hanging under the webs at night

Their bodies are almost 2cm long and leg span adds about another 7cm in length. They may bite if harassed but are NOT dangerous and are NOT aggressive



I would love to hear from anyone who has them in their backyard or who has collected them from inside their homes. Email me at leilani.walker@auckland.ac.nz

Introducing Cambridgea foliata

Now that I’ve divided my facebook friend into arachnophobes, arachnophiles and arachno-mehs, I should probably get to posting things about spiders. Or at least things about the species that I’m working with at the moment. So consider this a crash course on the primary Auckland Cambridgea species: Cambridgea foliata

C. foliata male
C. foliata female




lads and ladies
A couple specimens (sorry that they’re covered in ethanol and therefore very shiny). Male on the left with large jaws and genital bulb on his pedipalp. Female on the right without.

For wee NZ these are relatively large spiders (body length can be almost a couple centimetres). Males tend to have longer chelicerae (jaws) than females and have bulb-like structures on their pedipalps. If you have a microscope, you can see that these bulbs actually look more like this:


NB: This is a Cambridgea palp but I can’t remember if it’s C. foliata specifically because I’m in a cafe avoiding eye contact with punters rather than at my desk doing the same thing. Anyway, these structures are highly complex secondary genitalia because, as I’ve been gleefully telling people who didn’t want to know, spiders don’t have penises.

Males still produce ejaculate out of their down there’s but rather than transferring directly to the female epigyne (external genital opening), they place it in their pedipalps and, from there, “deposit” it in the female.

Imma leave this here for y'all
Imma leave this here for y’all

Despite how widespread these spiders are, particularly in the Waitakere ranges, they’re relatively unknown because they’re nocturnal and hide in retreats during the day. Retreats can be tunnels drilled in live or dead wood by other invertebrates, tunnels in banks or even folded over nikau palms.

The thing people are probably more familiar with are their webs. New Zealand sheet-web spiders will spend weeks generating a giant mass of silk consisting of a main sheet guyed from below and a nightmare of knock-down threads above the web. Most (but not all) Cambridgea build these webs and C. foliata make the largest (up to a square metre in area).

Just one of the many webs you will see if you ever go into Waitakere. Mainsheet and knock-down threads should be apparent.



At nightfall, the resident emerges from his or her retreat and will sit either at the entrance of the retreat or in its hub (centre). Flying insects from moths to huhu beetles blindly crash into the knock down threads and fall into the web. The disturbance of the insect attracts the spider who grabs it through the silk and gets down to the business of feeding.

If you go out at night between November and February you may be fortunate enough to see multiple spiders on a web. In the summer, males depart their lovingly constructed webs in search of females. When they find one, they take up residence with her and will even live in her retreat during the day (this sort of cohabitation is rare in spiders). I’ve already written/depicted what happens when a male enters a female’s when another male has already taken up residence.

So hopefully that’s enough of an introduction to the weird little world of spider life in Auckland. Happy now, Meg?





A week on Burgess Island; Fun titles are hard

About a week ago I shirked mainland life and mainland PhD work for just under a week of remote island living. Burgess Island of the Mokohinau Islands is situated off the North East coast of the North Island. The island is a scenic reserve and key field site for another PhD student, Megan, who is studying colouration of sea birds such as the diving petrel (Pelecanoides urinatrix). While Megan and another PhD candidate are still on the island, I went along for the first half of their trip to take an opportunistic fossick around the undergrowth for Cambridgea. I didn’t have much luck (at most I found a couple outgroup species for phylogenetic analysis) which made it all just a fantastic holiday before I start knuckling down to begin my own field work.

This post is just a large photo brag.

P1020346 P1020342 P1020465 P1020463 P1020458 P1020446 P1020437 P1020428 P1020421 P1020405 P1020402 P1020399 P1020395 P1020385 P1020378 P1020356 P1020355 P1020360

The last photograph is there to prove that there was work going on. (Even if it wasn’t mine). Big thanks to Megan for letting me come along on the trip that she organised (field trip without having to do all the admin = literally the best thing).

Not depicted: The 45 knot winds and the 110m, 45 degree incline hill that the hut was on.