European House Spider – Tegenaria domestica

2008 December 6

Also known as “Barn Funnel Weavers”, “Sink Spiders” and “Those Monster Hairy Spiders That Run Like The Wind”.

OK, here’s one I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for[1]: the European House Spider, Tegenaria domestica.
Let’s start with the nice semi-action shot that Michelle [2] took in her apartment[3]:

This is clearly a female, because she has thin, tapered pedipalps and is pretty good-sized. Now, as it turns out, we have the same ones in our house – this next one I caught in our sink, and it looks an awful lot like the one Michelle photographed. This time it is photographed from above, so you can see the patterning on the abdomen:

I would warn that the abdomen pattern is not a good ID feature, because sometimes these spiders are dark enough that you can’t see the pattern. The main thing is that they have short spinnerets compared to most other funnel-weavers, and they have smaller eyes than wolf spiders.

I mean, if this was a wolf spider, then zooming in on the face like this we’d see a pair of huge, intent eyes staring back at us, not just these little myopic things:

As you might guess from the name, these are not native to North America. They evidently hitch-hiked over with the colonists coming here from Europe[4], and are now a widespread cosmopolitan species[5]. They look similar to the so-called “Hobo Spider”, which is also an import, but that one doesn’t live here (yet), and it doesn’t have the striping on the legs that this one does.

European house spiders are adapted to your house, so throwing them outside isn’t doing them a kindness – they didn’t come in from the outside, and throwing them out just means they’ll probably die when it gets cold. They look big and mean and hairy, but it takes a lot of effort to persuade one to bite (to the point that I’ve never successfully goaded one into biting me). One thing that they do do, is eat other vermin in the house (roaches, carpet beetles, flies, crickets, ants[6], you name it).

Supposedly, the immatures and females build funnel-shaped webs in the corners and pretty much stick with them, while the mature males roam around from web to web looking for mates. That’s what I keep reading, but that’s not so much what I’m seeing. The immature spiders and female spiders seem to roam around a lot too. I find them in webs sometimes, but a large part of their population seems to have become more free-living, actively hunting the way that wolf spiders do. Which is why people frequently mistake them for wolf spiders, even though they aren’t that closely related. I think what is happening, is they are speciating. They are adapting to our household environment, and radiating into new niches. Building a web is a great strategy in a barn or in the grass, but in the house it just calls attention to yourself, and then the brooms and vacuum cleaners come out, and whoosh! Gone! I think there is a lot of selective pressure driving these spiders to minimize their use of webs, and over time I think they are going to get more and more like wolf spiders.

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[1] Actually, I already had a picture of one of these. But, it was only my second posting, and it really wasn’t a very good picture or writeup. Since this is one of the spiders that lives in practically everybody’s house, I figured it warranted a more thorough treatment.

[2] I don’t think this one is on her print sales site, but don’t let that stop you from seeing what else she has there.

[3] Michelle also mentioned that this picture was taken just shortly before her cat pounced on the spider and ate it. So, for all the people who want to know how to get rid of spiders in the house, there you are – get a cat.

[4] Come to think of it, they probably came over on the Mayflower. I should have posted this on Thanksgiving! (smacks self on head)

[5] I’ve been throwing around the term “cosmopolitan”, and I’d probably better clarify what I mean by it, and how it is different from just “non-native” or “invasive”. Non-native species are anything that came in and has managed to carve out a niche in the local ecosystem, however tenuous. Invasive species are the non-native species that, for whatever reason, are unusually successful and start displacing other species. Cosmopolitan species are a bit different – they aren’t taking over a niche in the local ecosystem. Rather, they are depending on us to create a niche for them, by building houses and other structures that they can move into, or by cutting down the forests to make lawns, or plowing up the prairies to make fields. They live everywhere, but only because we live everywhere. If for some reason people stop living in an area, and abandon everything to revert back to what it was before, then in most parts of the world these cosmopolitan species will then find themselves in an uncongenial environment and die off. Similarly, they don’t move into an area until we do. I expect that a lot of cosmopolitan species live in Antarctica, but only for as long as we maintain the bases there. If we ever shut them down, then pffft! they’re gone.

[6] Way back when I was an undergraduate, my housemates had a tendency to leave dirty dishes with food on them scattered around the house. And, of course, the house was an old, decrepit structure that didn’t so much keep out the wildlife, as give it shelter. This of course lead to a tremendous ant problem in the spring, plates and bowls were sometimes completely black with ants within a few minutes. Then, along about June, there was a massive population explosion of European House Spiders, and within a couple of weeks – no more ants. Of course, then we had these big, fat spiders scurrying around, which freaked out my housemates much more than the ants had. Suited me fine, though.

11 Responses leave one →
  1. December 6, 2008

    Good tip about the eyes.

    I wonder about the change in the webs. I had one, this summer, that had the funnel web, but mostly I see them running out from underneath the fridge or along the wall by the desk. No webs in sight.

  2. December 7, 2008

    Another outstanding post. I learned quite a bit from it, including the bit about not throwing them outside. I’m not sure this applies in San Diego, however, as the weather here is rarely cold enough to kill anything.

    The speciation speculation was fascinating. Vacuums and brooms as predators!

  3. January 7, 2009

    On the topic of vacuum cleaners as predators: “Long ago, there lived a creature with a voice like a vacuum cleaner. We know little about it, but we do know that it ate cats.” -Anonymous

  4. Shadiac permalink
    April 17, 2009

    Hello,

    First of all I would like to thank the author of this opus for pointing out ways to understand and treat different kinds of spiders. Among them, the Tegenaria.

    Second, the point of my comment is the following. I live in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and I often ran into these critters in my house generally starting with the Summer, but a lot more between August and October. While Wikipedia says that males look for maters during this season, what I have personally noted is that it’s the first hatch of their young that just goes around places, probably to “see the World” lol

    I would also like to point out some things that are however not mentioned in this article, or complete those already mentioned.

    1) You mention cats. I have a cat of myself. Okay, this might be a bad case because mine got castrated and does not eat anything beside chemical food. But occasionally it does catch some flies and moths (well, not that it succeeds, but at least the instinct is there). But never the spiders. Especially not Agelenids. I have seen many times my cat follow and maul some Salticidae, even Araneus diadematus once. But not Tegenaria. There must be a reason to that.

    2) You say that house spiders are hard to provoke and are generally fugitive. While this is true on the account of females and young (first – second mold), many adults may actually turn out to be very agressive. If you poke their web with a small object (stick, pencil, etc.), what they do is run, pumping those little legs, straight on you and try to get ON the stick and then RUN it all the way to your hand. What they actually do NOT do if you poke the web keeping certain distance (broom or just a longer stick). So they seem to understand distances between objects and might take into account smaller ones being separate (for example, they would not see yourself behind your hand so they would think that your hand is you). And God help you if you poke them with your bare finger! Never tried it myself actually, I prefer the “Safety first principle” =)
    You may note that Wikipedia states that house spiders rarely bite. I am prone to think the complete opposite. They must bite and pretty damn hard, because they compensate it with their speed of movement. That is, if a spidey cannot get too far away on its legs, it will do the “hedgehog” and warn the attacker that it is not to be messed with. Of course, the bite would unlikely be venomous, but who knows what it just ate before it sticks those fangs into your flesh, you know…

    3) About worldwideness (here ya go, the simpler word to your “cosmopolitan” =) ) of these spiders, you have a very interesting point. I might even add that since these spiders were almost the same branch of Agelenidae back in Europe in 17 – 18 centuries, it spread here very fast. And not because conditions were prospective. Well, yes, that too. But mainly because of all spiders in its order, these two (agrestis and domestica) and the most tenous, and most adaptive. It may even occur to me that they own a superiour intellect than many others, even in the widespead Aranea order. They are simply succeeding their fellowers, that’s what I think. And I also think that it might become of concern to us, humans, not to let many species get too loose before a virus or a lethal venom to Hominidae, second to Latradectus, gets in our way again. We must be wary of things we do to the spiders we have in our homes, because one day they might develop this trait as a potential defense against their new enemy – us.

    That is all. Hope this info would prove interesting to read and somehow useful to complete what you have said before.

    Good luck in your findings =)

    Sincerely,
    Shadiac

  5. scott permalink
    September 2, 2010

    im 15 years old and ive had this spider in my house 6 times this week , unless its breeded in my house everyone is petrified of spiders in my house so thats not really a good thing so my dad catches them and yeahh they go out the back we hade one in a glass this night before we put it out thee back we took a good look at it and now my dad dont like them becuase he saw how big the fangs were its really scarey i hardly touch the floor now

  6. Kevin permalink
    September 4, 2010

    Wonderful writeup, I’ve got one of these “monster hairy spiders that run like the wind” trapped in a salsa jar in my basement as I write this, and now I’ll head downstairs and let it go in a dark corner.

  7. C Eicher permalink
    April 8, 2011

    thank you for an excellent post. my gf is deathly afraid of spiders and we find all types in our apartment. thank you for your posts and i will definately be backif i find another spider that i dont know about. by the way, would u happen to know if the european house spider is poisonous? if u have an answer please email me asap. thank you again

  8. April 9, 2011

    C Eicher: No, the European house spider is not a dangerous spider. They are not very inclined to bite, and if they do somehow get provoked into biting, their venom is nothing to worry about. Like any other bite, the wound could become infected (same as, say, a splinter could), so any suspected bites should be disinfected, but that’s about it.

    There are only a very few spiders in North America with “medically serious” bites (Black Widows, possibly the Brown Recluse, and *maybe* the Hobo Spider), but pretty much any other spider is no danger at all. Even tarantula bites are only on the order of a bee or wasp sting.

  9. Roberto Granados permalink
    April 26, 2011

    Great article.
    For whatever reason,we don’t have many of these creatures around here,
    although I am keeping a female T. domestica I found a few weeks ago.
    To my suprise, the little 1/4″ spider caught a HUGE 3″Tipula crane fly
    in its web and ate it in a matter of hours!
    Pretty cool.

  10. greg permalink
    December 16, 2011

    I have come up to this spider in my village in south peloponissos tegenaria ( i am from Athens Greece) gigantea/domestica but never too concerned of getting bitten as concerned not to be indoors cause can hide anywhere … also you never want a big spider crawl on you or see her while cleaning your teeth at night or on the bed. In Coventry i came up with that spider on my bed…I would rather say iam keen on specializing and knowing spiders so i have experience but still can be freaked out if sees it on the bed and not all of it… In fact i remember changing my clothes and ready for bed in my room at the campus uni of coventry and seen something like the edges-legs of an arthropod insect… thought of a spider !!! Oh my god thought… i moved the matrice and it was a big spider it crawled from the bed on the pillow and then straight went in the heater system ventilator. The bed was close to the heater (put it that way to be warm from UK moisture). The heater ventilator was built in the walls and they are all connected via the different rooms through pipes and gaps down to the center in the basement (3rd floor i was – priory building old 15stages tall building of coventry uni)…. …so she just vanished there … in fact i took a shoe or cloth to smash it searching the heater nothing…just disappeared. Ok then said about 30 minutes until i was sure its gone…(removed the bed, matrices every cloth… checked the empty baggages – or boxes with cookies – i was student so you understand what i mean) behind my desk or piles of books that were on the floor (my desk had no space – not the best tidy room to say but had it cleaned once per week….better than of my greek friends though) closed the lights and …went sleeping… and again started to hear a noise like something is scratching paper or an empty bag being scratched …i said go to bed this is your imagination!!!. . come on it was only a spider..but..still i could hear something close to my bed…. ok i opened the light and there was a bug in that small empty plastic bag…..drowned it in the sink of my room… closed the lights and sweet dreams. Never saw that spider again propably surely a mature one female obviously liked dark rooms pipes and heat and moisture to search for bugs and so forth. I wonder who would be the lacky person to find her out again as each floor has 10 apartments as a whole and all heaters connected to each other to all floors to rest of apartments to the basic heater in the basement 2 floors below. And never heard of complains from others – probably did not pay that much attention cause i was sure if i noticed anything on big spiders down the secretary of the building campus she would be freaked out like hell and then everybody would be the same at the whole apartments…. girls would have been crazy … even notice they would have post in the entrance of the building !!
    (i knew english people afraid of large spiders very much) Anyway tegenarias in general are harmless despite their size…In fact in europe Latrodectus which is 1/4 size of tegenaria is dangerous .. thanx for reading…

  11. greg permalink
    December 16, 2011

    hobo spider is not dangerous no necrotic arachnidism no nothing …pose this differently since hobos were introduced from europe and there has been no clear mention of skin necrosis from bites of that spider in europe how can it happen in USA? nope no such case at all probably recluse propably other than spider…
    In general tegenaria and agelenids families are considered harmless they are new world spiders their fangs move sideways make sheet webs on grass, every place that a funnel can be created and extended outwards having leaves pieces of wood or grass in open air or even with less space open to the sun is a good place for agelena or tegenaria to make a nest. Agelenas are everywhere in olive trees and farmland/grass and edge of urban roads and fences in south greece throughout the summer…There is still a myth that this spider is dangerous even my mother said the old tale…untill i told her what’s the truth and what’s myth for funnel weavers. In my opinion these and related families should be called funnel weavers and not funnel webs. Funnel webs are primitive mygalomorph spiders (like trapdoors or tarantulas of tropics – theraposidae family) with less weaving abilities but stronger and more compact fangs and body structure. They have3 times the size of fangs of agelenids and point downwards from their rest heliceraia. Usually are black/brown coloured create a sort of T or Y shaped funnel rest area with trip lines extending out from the funnel. Very strong silk very pluffy like wallen cloth that if something is caught then the silk is extending more than 6 times its original shape…hence spider rashes out from below the trip lines and grab the victim. That is why she moves under the web since her fangs point downwards but now upwards below from her web (ok it can be on the web depending on her position) Funnel web is the notorius atrax of sidney australia to be considered most dangerous – misulena the mouse spider very rarely seen near homes also in australia. Few funnel webs are considered dangerous in general but should be avoided. Even in my country i have came up …its way different than agelena or tegenaria different colour the web and structure and very strong nest but quite rare though. Remember Shelob from lord of the rings exaclty that’s a funnel web (well of course there is no stinger to sting like in the movie but that’s the idea) and not tube spiders of segestria family. In fact segestria resembles the web of funnel web in terms of wallen material but is 1/7 compared size, (funnel webs are large and scary…)less strong web and nest size and totally harmless ..ok dont put your hand in her nest and corner her otherwise you are bitten …UK has lots of segestrias – new world spider not a primitive mygalomorph – fangs open sideways.
    thnx

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