Family: Pisauridae

Genus: Dolomedes

Species: tenebrosus

Photo: fishing spider, dock spider

                                                                                                                   Gawain Smart



This extraordinary daytime photo was captured by Gawain Smart on his island on Lake Temagami using a Canon 2040 digital camera at 1600x1200 resolution. He says the beast was "approximately the size of a medium-sized hand!"

The spider is holding an egg sac, seen below, in her fangs. The most common name is fishing spider, but Canadians often call it a dock spider, where they are frequently seen at cottages. Through Science North in Sudbury, I caught up with the well-known Zack Lemann, entomologist at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, and showed him the photo. (This guy keeps live spiders in his home "bug room"!) Here's what he said:

"Members of this family carry their egg sacs in their fangs for about three weeks. After this time, many species construct a 'nursery' by weaving a few large leaves together with silk.  They place the egg sac inside and guard it by resting on the leaves. There are some types of fishing spiders that make their nursery between rocks around streams. Most females survive to make a second egg sac (and sometimes even a third) before they die.

Most fishing spiders are dependent on and live near water, but there are a few species that may be found at a considerable distance from a pond, stream, etc. They often rest on the water, or with only their front two or four legs on the water. When insects, small tadpoles or small fish move and vibrate the water just so, the spider lunges forward and grabs its prey with both legs and fangs simultaneously.

When frightened, they will submerge themselves. When this happens the hairs on their bodies collect air bubbles, enabling the spider to stay under water, breathing, for about 10 or 15 minutes.

Members of the family Pisauridae, like nearly all spiders, have a pair of venom glands that lead to their fangs. In this family (again, as with over 99 per cent of all spiders) venom is effective in paralyzing or killing prey, but it is harmless to humans. That said, one must bear in mind the extremely rare instances, in which an individual may have a severe and medically significant reaction to a spider bite. 

Fishing spiders' propensity to bite varies with species and other factors. In some cases, an individual may strike at a person in order to defend itself if it feels threatened, or it may bite in defense of its egg sac. However, the normal encounters that put people and fishing spiders close together, usually prompt a hasty retreat by the spider, and they should not be considered 'aggressive.'"


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