Parson Spider

Stealthy ground spiders hunt at night and hide under leaves, boards, and stones during the day. The most commonly encountered of these is the parson spider.
Parson Spider - Articles

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Herpyllus ecclesiasticus female

Gnaphosidae—Ground Spiders

(Herpyllus ecclesiasticus)

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.

Description


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.

Life History/Behavior

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.

Medical Importance

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.

References

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Baerg, W. J. 1959. The Black Widow and Five Other Venomous Spiders in the United States. Ark. Agr. Expt. Sta. Bul. 608. 43 pp.

Bradley, R. A. 2013. Common Spiders of North America. University of California Press. 271 pp.

Breene, R. G., et al. 2003. Common Names of Arachnids. 5th ed. The American Arachnological Society Committee on Common Names of Arachnids. 42 pp.

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Herms, W. B., and M. T. James. 1961. Medical Entomology. 5th ed. The Mac-Millan Company, New York. 616 pp.

Howell, W. M., and R. L. Jenkins. 2004. Spiders of the Eastern United States: A Photographic Guide. Pearson Education. 363 pp.

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Kaston, B. J. 1948. “Spiders of Connecticut.” Conn. State Geol. Nat. Hist. Survey. Bull. 70. 874 pp.

Kaston, B. J. 1972. How to Know the Spiders. 3rd ed. Wm. C. Brown Company, Dubuque, Iowa. 272 pp.

Levi, H. W. 1959. “The Spider Genus Latrodectus (Araneae, Theridiidae).” Trans. Amer. Microscopical Soc. 78(1): 7–43.

Long, D., R. Snetsinger, and K. F. Helm. 1995. “Localized Pruritic Rash Due to Recurrent Spider Bites.” J. Geriatr. Dermatol. 3(6): 186–190.

McKeown, N., R. S. Vetter, and R. G. Hendrickson. 2014. “Verified spider bites in Oregon (USA) with the intent to assess hobo spider venom toxicity.” Toxicon 84: 51–55.

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