The Meshweavers

11 June 2021

If I had to name one family that is most frequently misidentified or leaves most people mystified, it would have to be the meshweavers in the family Dictynidae. I have seen them identified as Linyphiidae, Araneidae, Gnaphosidae, Theridiidae and many of the other families. Most of the IDs that I offer are left at the family level because this is one of the trickiest families to identify to species. Many of the species are similar in appearance and require microscopic examination to see the distinguishing characteristics. Even then, their diminutive size makes them difficult to dissect and after dissection I have been left scratching my head on more than a few. Ralph Chamberlin and Willis Gertsch (one-time U of M Professor) wrote their seminal work on identifying members of this family back in 1958, making the most reliable literature over 60 years old. If I had another lifetime, maybe I'd work on an update.

Finding dictynids is fairly easy if you know what to look for. In prairies and grasslands, I often find them by looking carefully at plants. They make a chaotic web near the shoot tips (particularly on woody plants) and the tiny spider is normally concealed within. Often I just collect the whole tip of the plant and get the spider out when I get back to the lab.

In broadleaf forests in early summer, Emblyna sublata is fairly easy to find. Webs appear as tangles within curled up leaves. Females come in two color morphs and males look completely different from either of them just to add to the confusion. The chelicerae of the male are pretty cool to look at under a microscope because they have a bow-legged look with a gap in the middle.

Dark female: https://bugguide.net/node/view/1670861/bgimage
Light female: https://bugguide.net/node/view/1051738/bgimage
Male: https://bugguide.net/node/view/399568/bgimage
Male chelicerae: https://bugguide.net/node/view/891375/bgimage

I hope you find more meshweavers this summer in your spidering. Just don't expect me to identify them to species! :)

Posted by cheins1 cheins1, June 11, 2021 15:23

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