The Benefits Of A Cellar Full Of Spiders

Though they've got a creepy reputation, this cobweb-building species is actually quite handy.

October 23, 2015
CELLAR SPIDER
ILLUSTRATION BY JACK UNRUH

Once Halloween is over, those cobwebs you’ve been calling “decorations” are no longer in season, so what’s to be done? Don’t act too quickly: The webs may be home to the aptly named cellar spiders (or pholcids, belonging to the animal family Pholcidae). Their long legs and relatively large bodies make them pitifully clumsy out of their webs, but while suspended on gossamer thread, they’re wily predators.

Related: Building A Root Cellar In Your Home

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Owing to the length of their legs, pholcids are often called daddy long-legs, a colloquial label that is also used for the similarly long-legged and distantly related harvestmen. Unlike harvestmen, pholcids are true spiders, complete with web-building tendencies, two discrete body sections, and venom glands—although their venom is only mildly toxic to humans.

Cellar spiders are denizens of dark, damp, and undisturbed places, such as your basement and the nether regions behind that dresser you haven’t moved in years. Left to their own devices, they can cover considerable areas with silken tendrils as they continuously add to their lairs. There they wait for victims to blunder into the haphazardly constructed webs. Their awkward appearance belies their agility; they move with dazzling speed to wrap prey—including insects such as ants and roaches—in silk. In fact, pholcids are so adept in webs that they raid other spiders’ webs to steal prey or even eat the current inhabitants.

Not being content to simply eat their fellow spiders, cellar spiders also outperform them. When disturbed in their webs, cellar spiders gyrate wildly—a behavior that may blur their silhouettes to confuse potential predators or flex and slacken their webs to further entangle prey. Either way, their dancing definitely makes them worthy of observation, if not entirely justifying their presence indoors.

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