Herpyllus ecclesiasticus female
Stealthy ground spiders are a family of hunting spiders that spin silken retreats in leaves and under boards and stones to hide in during the day; they hunt at night. 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 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 parson spider has a distinctive white dorsal pattern on the abdomen that somewhat resembles a clerical collar worn in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries called a cravat. This is where the spider gets its common name. 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 are 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.
Like many other spiders, the parson spider is not considered medically im- portant. However, their bite is painful, and some individuals may experience an allergic reaction of varying symptoms. Most bites occur when the spiders are trapped against the skin in clothing and bedding.
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Authored by: Steve Jacobs, Sr. Extension Associate