Data Sheet: Araneae - Science Label

Data Sheet: Araneae


The Araneae class, encompassing all spiders, is a distinct and diverse group of arachnids, comprising over 48,000 known species distributed worldwide. Spiders are renowned for their silk-spinning abilities, enabling them to construct intricate webs for trapping prey, shelter, and reproduction. This unique feature, among others, sets them apart from other arachnid classes.

Distinctive Features of Araneae

Unlike their arachnid cousins, spiders possess several unique traits:

  • Silk Production: All spiders have silk-producing glands called spinnerets, used for web construction, prey capture, egg protection, and mobility through ballooning.
  • Venomous Bites: Most spiders are venomous, using their venom to subdue prey. The venom composition is highly diverse across species.
  • Two-Body Segmentation: Spiders have a two-part body, consisting of a cephalothorax (prosoma) and abdomen (opisthosoma), unlike the segmented bodies of many other arachnids.

Comparison with Other Arachnids

  • Scorpions (Scorpiones): Distinguished by their segmented tail ending in a venomous stinger and large pincers (pedipalps), scorpions are predators that often use their venom for both defense and prey immobilization.
  • Horseshoe Crabs (Xiphosura): Not true crabs, these marine arachnids have a hard carapace, a long, spike-like tail (telson), and lack venom or silk production abilities.
  • Mites and Ticks (Acarina): Extremely diverse, these tiny arachnids can be found in a variety of habitats, including soil, water, and as parasites on plants and animals. They have a single, fused body segment and vary widely in feeding habits and ecological roles.

Evolutionary Subgroups of Araneae

The class Araneae is broadly divided into two main suborders:

  • Mesothelae: An ancient group characterized by their abdominal spinnerets located midway along the abdomen. These spiders, like the Liphistiidae, are mostly found in Asia and are primitive, with few species surviving today.
  • Opisthothelae: This subgroup is further divided into two infraorders:
    • Mygalomorphae: Includes tarantulas and their relatives, known for their downward-striking fangs and burrowing habits. They tend to be larger and live longer than other spiders.
    • Araneomorphae: The most diverse infraorder, including the majority of spider species. Members have fangs that cross in a pincer movement and exhibit greater diversity in web construction and hunting techniques.

Spiders of the Pacific Northwest and Oregon

The Pacific Northwest, including Oregon, hosts a rich diversity of spider species, adapted to its varied ecosystems from coastal areas to mountainous regions. Common examples include:

  • Giant House Spider (Eratigena atrica): Often found in homes and buildings, this species is known for its large size and speed.
  • Western Black Widow (Latrodectus hesperus): Famous for its potent venom, this spider is identifiable by its glossy black body and red hourglass marking on the abdomen.
  • Yellow Sac Spider (Cheiracanthium inclusum): These spiders are common in gardens and homes, recognizable by their pale color and nocturnal hunting habits.
  • Orb-weaver Spiders (Araneidae): A diverse family known for their intricate circular webs; species like the Cross Orbweaver (Araneus diadematus) are common in gardens and forests.

Conservation and Human Interaction

While spiders play crucial roles in ecosystems as predators of insect pests, they often face threats from habitat loss, pollution, and climate change. Public education about the ecological benefits of spiders and research into their conservation are vital for their continued presence in regions like the Pacific Northwest.


Spiders (Araneae) are a fascinating and diverse class of arachnids, unique in their silk production, venom use, and body segmentation. They differ significantly from other arachnids such as scorpions, horseshoe crabs, and mites, showcasing a wide range of ecological roles. The Pacific Northwest, including Oregon, is home to a variety of spider species, reflecting the ecological richness of this class. Conservation efforts and public awareness are crucial to ensure the survival of these important arthropods.


  • Foelix, R.F. (2011). Biology of Spiders. Oxford University Press.
  • World Spider Catalog. (2023). Natural History Museum Bern,
  • Bradley, R.A. (2013). Common Spiders of North America. University of California Press.
  • Cushing, P.E., & Casto, P. (2012). "The natural history of the mygalomorphs of America north of Mexico." Journal of Arachnology, 40(1), 1-107.

Silk Production in Araneae: An In-depth Exploration

Silk production is a hallmark characteristic of spiders, setting them apart not only from other arachnids but also making them unique among all animals due to the complexity and utility of their silk. This remarkable material, produced in the specialized glands within the spider's abdomen, has fascinated scientists for its biomolecular properties, incredible strength, and versatility.

The Silk Glands

Spiders have several types of silk glands, each producing a different kind of silk for various purposes—ranging from web construction, egg sac protection, to prey capture and even dispersal through ballooning. The major silk glands include:

  • Ampullate Glands: Produce dragline silk for the web's frame and safety lines.
  • Tubuliform Glands: Specialized for producing the silk that encases the eggs.
  • Aciniform Glands: Produce wrapping silk for immobilizing prey and reinforcing the web.
  • Pyriform Glands: Create attachment discs that anchor the silk threads to surfaces.

Each gland secretes a liquid silk protein, or spidroin, which solidifies into silk as it is drawn out through the spinnerets located at the rear of the abdomen.

Biomolecular Properties of Silk

The biomolecular composition of spider silk gives it a unique set of properties—extreme tensile strength, elasticity, and durability—that rival or surpass synthetic materials. The primary structure of spidroins consists of repetitive amino acid sequences, predominantly glycine, alanine, and serine, which contribute to the silk's strength, flexibility, and resistance to breaking.

  • Strength: The crystalline regions formed by alanine-rich blocks provide tensile strength comparable to steel.
  • Elasticity: Glycine-rich regions offer elasticity, allowing the silk to stretch significantly without breaking.
  • Durability: The silk's resistance to degradation by elements makes it remarkably durable over time.

Spidroins are stored in a highly concentrated aqueous solution within the silk glands. As the spider extrudes silk, the spidroin proteins undergo a transition from a liquid to a solid state. This process, known as "spinning," involves the alignment of protein chains and the formation of intermolecular hydrogen bonds, facilitated by the physical force of extrusion and chemical changes in the silk duct environment.

The Spinning Process

The transformation from liquid spidroin to solid silk is a fascinating example of natural polymer processing. As the spider draws silk from its spinnerets, it controls the speed and tension of the extrusion, which influences the final properties of the silk thread. The passage of spidroin through the duct causes a rapid phase transition, with shear forces and a change in pH playing critical roles. This controlled assembly process at ambient conditions is of great interest for developing sustainable biomimetic materials.

Applications and Future Research

Spider silk's unique properties have inspired numerous applications, from medical sutures and tissue engineering scaffolds to bulletproof vests and reinforced materials. Research into the genetic engineering of silk proteins in other organisms, like bacteria, plants, and silkworms, aims to produce spider silk at a commercial scale due to the difficulty of harvesting silk directly from spiders.


  • Vollrath, F., & Knight, D.P. (2001). "Liquid crystalline spinning of spider silk." Nature, 410, 541-548.
  • Heim, M., Keerl, D., & Scheibel, T. (2009). "Spider silk: From soluble protein to extraordinary fiber." Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 48(20), 3584-3596.
  • Agnarsson, I., Kuntner, M., & Blackledge, T.A. (2010). "Bioprospecting Finds the Toughest Biological Material: Extraordinary Silk from a Giant Riverine Orb Spider." PLoS ONE, 5(9): e11234.

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