Herpyllus ecclesiasticus female
Unlike orbweavers, ground spiders actively hunt prey without the use of a web. They typically hunt at night and spin silken retreats in leaves and under boards and stones to hide in during the day. There are seventeen genera in the United States. The most commonly encountered of these is the parson spider, which enters structures in the fall to seek a hibernation site for the winter.
Herpyllus ecclesiasticus female. Photo by Steven Jacobs, Penn State Extension
Herpyllus ecclesiasticus is a rather hairy spider with flat-lying black hairs on the cephalothorax and gray hairs on the abdomen. The exoskeleton (easily seen on the legs) is a chestnut brown. The common name “parson spider” is derived from the distinctive white dorsal pattern on the abdomen that somewhat resembles a clerical collar worn in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries called a cravat. A small white spot is located just above the spinnerets. These spiders are not very large; females are 8 to 13 millimeters long and males average 6 millimeters in length.
During the day, parson spiders hide in a silken retreat in rolled leaves, under bark, stones, or debris, and in similar locations in wooded areas. At night they hunt for prey and can move very fast. These spiders will run in a zigzag fashion to evade predators; for this reason, they can be hard to capture when seen in homes. Females deposit a white egg sac during the fall under the bark of trees and logs. They will also hibernate in these locations and protect the sac from predation.
While the bite from a parson spider is painful, and some individuals may experience an allergic reaction of varying symptoms, they are generally not considered medically important. Most bites occur when the spiders are trapped against the skin in clothing and bedding.
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