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Topic: Sheetweb spiders

Is part of topic What spider is that?

Scientific name: Cambridgea spp.

What do they look like?

There are about thirty species in the genus Cambridgea. They vary greatly in both size and colouration. The smallest species may be less than a centimetre in length, whereas the largest species, Cambridgea foliata, may have a palm-sized leg span.

Typically these spiders have longish legs relative to their body size and the males of some species may have very large chelicerae (these are the structures that include the fangs).

Because of their superficial resemblance, these spiders are sometimes misidentified as the Nelson cave spider. However, even the largest of Cambridgea species don’t approach the Nelson cave spider’s maximum 15 centimetre leg span and they also lack the very long claws on the first two pairs of legs.

Where are they found?

Cambridgea spiders occur throughout New Zealand, and are particularly abundant in native forest. Several species are also at home in suburban gardens. As noted above, these spiders are sometimes mistaken for the Nelson cave spider, which is confined to a few cave systems in the Nelson and Buller regions. Large, long-legged spiders encountered around homes are far more likely to be Cambridgea.

What are their habits?

Anyone tramping through areas of native bush will almost certainly have come across the sheetwebs of these spiders, but rarely will they have seen the spiders themselves.

By day, Cambridgea will hide out of sight in a tubular retreat, only emerging once darkness falls. At night, the spider will hang from the underside of the sheetweb, waiting for insects to fall in.

The size of the web is related to the size of the spider, with our largest species Cambridgea foliata known to produce a snare that is almost a metre across.

Occasionally, male Cambridgea spiders wander into homes, much as the black tunnelweb spider does.

What is their bite like?

Larger species of Cambridgea have very large fangs and are certainly capable of biting a human. However, despite the fact that a number of species make their homes in our gardens, bites are extremely rare.

On display at Te Papa?

In the forest invertebrates display in Mountains to Sea.

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