Neoscona theisi, copyright Graham Winterflood.

Belongs within: Araneidae.

The monkey-orb of Asia
Published 4 July 2016

Just a quick entry for this week. And for the second week in a row, today’s post will somehow involve monkeys.

Female monkey orb-weaving spider Neoscona punctigera, copyright Akio Tanikawa.

The orb-weavers of the family Araneidae are a highly diverse group of spiders, with well over 3000 known species. They are also one of the most familiar spider groups, often being relatively large as well as visible due to their construction of exposed and characteristic webs. The lady in the picture above represents one of the more moderately sized species, being about a centimetre in length (Tikader & Bal 1981). Neoscona punctigera is a widespread species in Asia, with a range extending from Madagascar and surrounding islands to Japan, as well as south into New Guinea and northernmost Australia. Vernacular names for the species include ghost spider or monkey orb-weaver. Like many other orb-weavers, N. punctigera only puts up its web at night; it sits in the web head downwards. When morning comes, the spider consumes the previous night’s web and finds a concealed spot to hide until evening. On the underside of the body, N. punctigera has one or two pairs of bright white spots. When the spider is hunkered down for the day, these spots are concealed but when the spider is out on its web at night they are very visible; Chuang et al. (2008) found that these bright spots appear to attract prey, as spiders who had had their spots painted over caught less moths than usual.

Male Neoscona punctigera, copyright Suresh Kumar.

The name ‘monkey orb-weaver’ refers to the appearance of the male, which like the males of other orb-weavers is quite a bit smaller than the female (I have no idea where the name ‘ghost spider’ comes from; perhaps something to do with the spider’s appearance on a web?) Resting males tend to adopt a pose with the front legs bent close together and the rear legs crossed behind the abdomen (as in the photo just above). Combined with eye-like spots on the abdomen, the overall effect has been compared to a monkey lying back with its legs crossed and its hands behind its head.

Orb-weaver taxonomy can often be confusing. Early authors tended to dump a large number of orb-weavers in a broad genus Araneus; though this genus is now used in a much narrower sense, many orb-weaver genera are difficult to distinguish without examining the genitalia. Individual species can also be quite variable in superficial appearance with a lot of variation in colour pattern, so many species were initially described under a number of names. Female Neoscona differ from Araneus in the presence of a longitudinal groove on the cephalothorax, as well as the presence of one or two lateral lobes at the base of the scape (a projecting process over the epigyne, the sclerotised structure around the female genital openings). Distingushing N. punctigera from other species of Neoscona requires even closer inspection of the genitalia. In a number of older sources the species now generally referred to as Neoscona punctigera (including in the World Spider Catalog) is commonly referred to as ‘Araneus lugubris‘. Confusingly enough, the latter name actually has priority (it dates to 1841 whereas the name pectinigera was only published in 1857) but has fallen out of disuse since Grasshoff (1986) stated that it was preoccupied in a review of African Neoscona. I’m not sure if he was correct—I suspect that he thought it was antedated by Aranea lugubris, published in 1802 for what is now a species of wolf spider, but as the 1841 species was originally placed in the now-obsolete genus Epeira I don’t think they actually conflict. Nevertheless, the rules governing how preoccupation affects the use of older names can be complicated and if N. pectinigera has been settled as standard then it may be best to let it be.

Systematics of Neoscona
<==Neoscona Simon 1864PVD10 (see below for synonymy)
    |--*N. arabesca (Walckenaer 1841) [=Epeira arabesca]G76
    |--N. achine (Simon 1906) [=Araneus achine]TB81
    |--N. adianta (Walckenaer 1802)T98 (see below for synonymy)
    |--N. amamiensis Tanikawa 1998T98
    |--N. bengalensis Tikader & Bal 1981TB81
    |--N. biswasi (Bhandari & Gajbe 2001)HU08
    |--N. chrysanthusi Tikader & Bal 1981TB81
    |--N. cruciferaSC20
    |--N. domiciliorumSC20
    |--N. elliptica Tikader & Bal 1981TB81
    |--N. excelsus (Simon 1889) [=Glyptogona excelsus, Araneus excelsus, Epeira excelsa]TB81
    |--N. laglaizei (Simon 1877)TB81 (see below for synonymy)
    |--N. lugubris (Walckenaer 1841)T98 (see below for synonymy)
    |--N. mellotteei (Simon 1895) [=Araneus mellotteei, Aranea mellotteei]T98
    |--N. minoriscylla Yin et al. 1990T98
    |--N. molemensis Tikader & Bal 1981TB81
    |--N. mukerjei (Tikader 1980)AM11
    |--N. nautica (Koch 1875)T98 (see below for synonymy)
    |--N. oaxacensis (Keyserling 1863)SC97
    |--N. odites (Simon 1906) [=Araneus odites]TB81
    |--N. orientalis (Urquhart 1887)PVD10 [=Epeira orientalisFF99]
    |--N. pavida (Simon 1906) [=Araneus pavida, A. pavidus]TB81
    |--N. poonaensis Tikader & Bal 1981TB81 [=Eriovixia poonaensisAM11]
    |--N. punctigera (Doleschall 1857) (see below for synonymy)T98
    |--N. rumpfi (Thorell 1878) [=Araneus rumpfi]TB81
    |--N. scylla (Karsch 1879) [=Epeira scylla, Aranea scylla, Araneus scyllus]T98
    |--N. scylloides (Bösenberg & Strand 1906) [=Aranea scylloides, Araneus scylloides]T98
    |--N. shillongensis Tikader & Bal 1981TB81
    |--N. sinhagadensis (Tikader 1975) [=Araneus sinhagadensis]TB81
    |--N. subpullata (Bösenberg & Strand 1906) [=Aranea subpullata, Araneus subpullatus]T98
    |--N. theisi (Walckenaer 1841)T98 (see below for synonymy)
    `--N. vigilans (Blackwell 1865) (see below for synonymy)T98

Neoscona Simon 1864PVD10 [incl. Afraranea Archer 1951T98, Chinestela Chamberlin 1924T98, Cubanella Franganillo 1926T98, Friovixia Archer 1951TB81, Neosconopsis Archer 1951G76]

Neoscona adianta (Walckenaer 1802)T98 [=Aranea adiantaG76, Araneus (Epeira) adiantaS95, Araneus adiantusT98, Miranda adiantaT98, Neoscona adiantumT98, *Neosconopsis adiantaG76; incl. Meta doenitzi Bösenberg & Strand 1906T98, Aranea doenitziT98, Araneus doenitziT98, Neoscona doenitziT98, Aranea adianta japonica Bösenberg & Strand 1906T98]

Neoscona laglaizei (Simon 1877)TB81 [=Epeira laglaizeiTB81, Araneus laglaizeiTB81; incl. E. thomisoides Doleschall 1857 non Duf. 1855K92]

Neoscona lugubris (Walckenaer 1841)T98 [=Epeira lugubrisR13, Araneus lugubrisT98; incl. E. indagatrix K. 1871R13, Neoscona triangula (Keyserling 1864)T98]

Neoscona nautica (Koch 1875)T98 [=Epeira nauticaT98, Aranea nauticaT98, Araneus nauticusT98; incl. Aranea koratsensis Dönitz & Strand in Bösenberg & Strand 1906T98, Epeira pullata Thorell 1877TB81, E. volucripes Keyserling 1885TB81, Neoscona volucripesTB81]

Neoscona punctigera (Doleschall 1857) [=Epeira punctigera, Afraranea punctigera, Araneus punctigera; incl. Epeira opima Koch 1878, Aranea opima, Araneus opimus, Neoscona opima, Aranea punctigera vatia (Thorell 1877)]T98

Neoscona theisi (Walckenaer 1841)T98 [=Epeira theisT98, Araneus theisiT98, E. theisiTB81, Neoscona theisT98; incl. E. braminica Stoliczka 1869TB81, E. mangareva Walckenaer 1847R13, Araneus mangarevusTB81, E. obscura Rainbow 1897TB81]

Neoscona vigilans (Blackwell 1865) [=Epeira vigilans; incl. Araneus alternidens Schenkel 1936, E. rufofemorata Simon 1884, A. rufofemoratus]T98

*Type species of generic name indicated


[AM11] Araujo, D., V. F. Mattos, A. M. Giroti, M. G. Kraeski, L. S. Carvalho & A. D. Brescovit. 2011. Cytogenetical characterization of six orb-weaver species and review of cytogenetical data for Araneidae. Journal of Arachnology 39 (2): 337–344.

Chuang, C-Y., E.-C. Yang & I.-M. Tso. 2008. Deceptive color signaling in the night: a nocturnal predator attracts prey with visual lures. Behavioral Ecology 19 (2): 237–244.

[FF99] Forster, R., & L. Forster. 1999. Spiders of New Zealand and their World-wide Kin. University of Otago Press: Dunedin (New Zealand).

[G76] Grasshoff, M. 1976. Zur Taxonomie und Nomenklatur mitteleuropäischer Radnetzspinnen der Familie Araneidae (Arachnida: Araneae). Senckenbergiana Biologica 57 (1–3): 143–154.

Grasshoff, M. 1986. Die Radnetzspinnen-Gattung Neoscona in Afrika (Arachnida: Araneae). Annalen Zoologische Wetenschappen 250: 1–123.

[HU08] Hore, U., & V. P. Uniyal. 2008. Diversity and composition of spider assemblages in five vegetation types of the Terai Conservation Area, India. Journal of Arachnology 36 (2): 251–258.

[K92] Karsch, F. 1892. Arachniden von Ceylon und von Minikoy gesammelt von den Herren Doctoren P. und F. Sarasin. Berliner Entomologische Zeitschrift 36 (2): 267–310.

[PVD10] Paquin, P., C. J. Vink & N. Dupérré. 2010. Spiders of New Zealand: annotated family key and species list. Manaaki Whenua Press: Lincoln (New Zealand).

[R13] Rainbow, W. J. 1913. Arachnida from the Solomon Islands. Records of the Australian Museum 10 (1): 1–16.

[SC97] Scharff, N., & J. A. Coddington. 1997. A phylogenetic analysis of the orb-weaving spider family Araneidae (Arachnida, Araneae). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 120: 355–434.

[SC20] Scharff, N., J. A. Coddington, T. A. Blackledge, I. Agnarsson, V. W. Framenau, T. Szűts, C. Y. Hayashi & D. Dimitrov. 2020. Phylogeny of the orb-weaving spider family Araneidae (Araneae: Araneoidea). Cladistics 36: 1–21.

[S95] Simon, E. 1895. Arachnides recueillis par Mr G. Potanine en Chine et en Mongolie (1876–1879). Izviestĭia Imperatorskoi Akademĭi Nauk” [Bulletin de l’Academie Imperiale des Sciences de St. Pétersbourg], Ser. 5, 4: 331–345.

[T98] Tanikawa, A. 1998. A revision of the Japanese spiders of the genus Neoscona (Araneae: Araneidae). Acta Arachnologica 47 (2): 133–168.

[TB81] Tikader, B. K., & A. Bal. 1981. Studies on some orb-weaving spiders of the genera Neoscona Simon and Araneus Clerck of the family Araneidae (=Argiopidae) from India. Records of the Zoological Survey of India, Miscellaneous Publication, Occasional Paper 24: 1–60.

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