Whip Spiders: Facts & Habitat

Instructor: Sujata Archer
In this lesson you will learn about whip spiders, which are sometimes called the 'tailless whip scorpion,' and have been found in tropical and sub-tropical regions.

What Are Whip Spiders?

In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Moody takes out a spider from a jar and says ''Imperio!'' The spider proceeds to do acrobats and even a tap dance. It's portrayed as a venomous creature that can kill with one bite. Was that really a spider? Was it a tailless scorpion? What was it?

The spider that Moody took out of the jar was not technically a spider, but a whip spider, also called a tailless scorpion. The whip spiders belong to the arachnid order Amblypygi ('ambly' means 'blunt' and 'pygi' means 'rump'--referring to the absence of a tail). They are therefore related to spiders and scorpions. What makes them unique is that they do not build webs or have venom. They do have an intimidating pair of claws though.

Parts of the Whip Spider

Let's go over the parts of whip spiders. They have:

  • two body parts (cephalothorax and the abdomen)
  • a flat body shape with a total length of 5 to 7 cm
  • eight legs - the six back ones for walking and the two long, thin front legs for sensing, called antenniform
  • enlarged and spiny pincers called pedipalps to catch prey
  • two eyes in the front and three eyes on each side (despite so many eyes, they don't actually see very well)

Whip Spider

Reproduction

Whip spiders usually mate in the fall. After mating, the female carries the fertilized eggs inside her for a few months. When the eggs are laid, the female carries them in a fluid-filled sac under her abdomen. Each sac has 30 to 40 eggs.

The female makes a burrow and sits with the egg sac for about 2 months. During this time this dedicated mother does not move and makes sure the egg sac does not touch the ground! Once the eggs hatch the nymphs climb on their mother's back and stay there for a month until they molt. After molting they leave and venture out on their own.

The female only produces one egg sac in a lifetime. After she delivers the nymphs she soon dies due to starvation and weakness.

Unique Features of the Whip Spider

These are really very interesting creatures. Let's talk about a few unique features they have.

These arachnids are kind of touchy feely! Researchers at Cornell University observed two species of whip spider mothers caress their baby with their feelers. They also saw that they liked to be together in a group until sexual maturity. Social behavior in arachnids is rarely observed, so this is a unique characteristic.

Whip spiders fight with a dance! Although these arachnids have weapons they hesitate to use them with each other. Perhaps this is where the makers of Harry Potter got their idea for the whip spider to tap dance.

When there is a fight, two arachnids circle and softly probe each other with their whips. This is followed by jerky motions and rapid vibration of their whips that do not touch the opponents. One fighter usually retreats - only 27% of the time is there a violent fight.

How does a whip spider in a fight decide to retreat? Well, it's all related to the hair on their legs known as trichobothria. When the arachnids are using their whips, the hairs on their legs respond to the vibrations being created. It has been observed that if the hair on the legs is shaved off the arachnids indulge in more violent fights that last longer.

Whip spiders even eat shrimp! This has been seen on the island of Tobago. Scientists noticed Heterophrynus cheiracanthus catch prawns from the stream that they ate. Some have been reported to even consume hummingbirds! This is unusual because most arachnids just consume arthropods.

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