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Tent Spiders

Tent Spiders build three-dimensional webs which work differently from flat orb webs.

Orb webs depend on sticky silk to entangle the prey which fly horizontally into the invisible trap. In three-dimensional webs, the silk is not sticky. Flying insects are knocked down by the vertical silk lines onto the horizontal platform. The spider then runs out of its hiding place to grab them. Different Tent Spiders have various ingenious hiding places.
Mangrove and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
web showing silken tunnelTent web of Beccari's Tent Spider showing horizontal platform with vertical silk lines
Three-dimensional webs take a long time to build, sometimes up to several nights. Those of the Red Tent Spider can be very large and complex, with a delicate horizontal platform made up of fine, regular netting. The horizontal platform is often dome shaped. Unlike orb-webs, they are not rebuilt regularly and can last a long time (several weeks).

One experiment suggests that while orb webs are not waterproof (water droplets remain on the web), three-dimensional webs are, and may thus be more durable in wet habitats.


spider near its silken tunnel, well disguisedBeccari's Tent Spider
Cyrtophora beccarii


This spider builds a three-dimensional web in vegetation with a silken tube at the heart of the web. Its white abdomen helps it blend in nicely with the white silken tube.
Main features: Small (female, 8-9mm) white abdomen.

Status in Singapore: Common in vegetation in mangrove swamps and along rural settlements
close-up of female with white abdomen
Photo from
Joseph K H Koh
World distribution: India, Southeast Asia to Papua New Guinea.

Classification:
Family Araneidae (Orb Web Spiders).
The spider is nocturnal and during the day usually stays safe inside its silky hideaway. The eggcase is also safely tucked into this silken tube. The web can range from tiny ones smaller than a fist to medium sized ones, each with its correspondingly sized silken tube.

spider in its leaf retreatRed Tent Spider
Cyrtophora unicolor


This spider builds a large three-dimensional web in vegetation. The web usually has one or two curled up dried leaves in the centre, giving the appearance that the spider is a poor housekeeper. But this is far from the truth.
Main features: Large (female, 17-20mm) reddish.

Status in Singapore: Common in rural areas and jungle fringes.

close-up of spider
World distribution: India, Sri Lanka, Japan, Southeast Asia, Papua New Guinea, northern Australia.

Classification: Family Araneidae (Orb Web Spiders).
The spider has carefully chosen and placed the leaf there and ingeniously hides inside. If you find a web that is built above eye level, you can easily spot this beautiful large spider by looking up into the underside of the curled up leaf. (On low webs, you'll have to stoop down and look up). If you see a lot of leaves in the web, however, it usually means that the spider is no longer in the web to keep it tidy.

Cyrtophora cicatrosa

close-up showing legs held in pairsThis spider is distinguished from similar spiders by the four bumps on its abdomen. It often holds its legs in pairs like the St. Andrew's Cross Spider. When alarmed, the spider drops from its web and darkens its colour to match the ground.
Main features: large (female about 10cm) four bumps on patterned abdomen, legs usually held in pairs.

Status in Singapore: Common in vegetation in mangroves and elsewhere.

World distribution: India, Burma to Papua New Guinea and Polynesia.
close-up of female abdomen showing bumps
Classification: Family Araneidae (Orb Web Spiders).
dome-shaped webThis beautiful large spider also builds a three-dimensional web in vegetation. string of egg sacsUnlike the Red Tent's web, it is free of dried leaves, and unlike Beccari's Tent Spider, lacks a silken tube. The web can be very large and is essentialy a finely netted horizontal orb-web which is stretched into a dome shape by a tangle of vertical silk lines.

The female produces a string of egg sacs, from 3 to as many as 12, suspended vertically in the middle of the web. She lies below the egg sacs, patiently guarding them.

LINKS
REFERENCES
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  • Joseph K H Koh, "Spiders of the Family Araneidae in Singapore Mangroves", The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, 1991 39(1) (p. 169-182: on Cyrtophora beccarii and cicatrosa).
  • Joseph K H Koh, "A Guide to Common Singapore Spiders", BP Guides, Science Centre, 1989 (p. 51 on the Red Tent Spider; p. 49: on Beccari's Tent Spider: habits, habitat, distribution, photos or spider and web).
  • Peter K L Ng and N Sivasothi, "A Guide to the Mangroves of Singapore II: Animal Diversity", Singapore Science Centre, 1999 (p. 93 on Beccari's Tent Spider: description, habits, habitat, photos).
 
By Ria Tan, 2001