Introduction to Nephilidae

The orb-weaving spider subfamily Nephilinae Simon contains the well known genera Nephila and Nephilengys, which are important predators of large aerial arthropod prey in most tropical and subtropical ecosystems worldwide, as well as the two lesser known genera, the Australasian Herennia and the African ClitaetraNephila species are the most conspicuous web-spinning spiders in the tropics. The colorful females have body sizes up to 5 cm and leg spans up to 15 cm, and build the largest orb-webs known (1.5 m diameter), which are golden in color. Giant females are many times larger than the males. Such extreme sexual size dimorphism is rare in the arthropod world and among terrestrial animals (Vollrath, 1980, 1998; Vollrath and Parker, 1992, 1997; Coddington, 1994; Coddington et al., 1997; Hormiga et al., 2000). Nephila has been the subject of numerous studies from all aspects of biology (see bibliography) and is becoming a model organism in sexual biology and the evolution of sexual size dimorphism. While the biology of Nephilengys (reviewed in Kuntner, 2007 – PDF) and Herennia (reviewed in Kuntner, 2005 – PDF) has been studied in some detail, that of Clitaetra has been largely unknown prior to my study (Kuntner, 2006 – PDF).

Nephilinae was first recognized by Simon (1894), but its familial placement within Araneoidea has changed repeatedly (see Kuntner, 2005-2006). Simon’s (1894) argiopid subfamily Nephilinae consisted of the genera Singotypa Simon, 1894, Phonognatha Simon, 1894, Deliochus Simon, 1894, Nephila Leach, 1815 (Nephilengys L. Koch, 1872 included), Clitaetra Simon, 1889, and Herennia Thorell, 1877. Later, Singafrotypa Benoit, 1962 and Perilla Thorell, 1895 were included in nephilines. Most authors have included Nephilinae within Araneidae, but its alternative placement, supported by cladistic analyses (Coddington, 1990; Hormiga et al., 1995; Griswold et al., 1998), has been in Tetragnathidae (Platnick, 1997).

The little known “nephiline” genera, African Singafrotypa and Asian Perilla, were transferred to the araneid subfamily Araneinae (Kuntner and Hormiga, 2002Kuntner, 2002) where they have remained (Platnick, 2006). My doctoral work (Kuntner, 2005) has focused on the systematics and evolution of true nephiline spiders. My papers resulting from this work (Kuntner, 2005-2006, 2007; Kuntner et al., 2008) provide phylogenetic treatments of all nephiline species with detailed hypotheses of morphological and behavioral homologies, establish the monophyly of Nephila, Nephilengys, Herennia and Clitaetra, which are sister to the remaining araneoid lineages, elevate Nephilinae to family status (hereafter referred to as Nephilidae, new rank), provide a classification based on the phylogenetic evidence and revise the biology and the taxonomy of nephilid genera. Platnick’s spider catalogue version 7.0 now includes the family Nephilidae.

Upon publication of all nephilid monographs, this website will contain interactive keys to all nephilid species worldwide. should be complete and fully functional in 2009.

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