Zelotes latreillei, copyright Giedrius Markevičius.

Belongs within: Gnaphosidae.

The zealot spiders
Published 15 October 2013
Female Zelotes longipes, photographed by Jørgen Lissner.

The spider in the photo above is a fairly typical representative of the genus Zelotes. As it currently stands, this is a large genus found worldwide, with around 400 species described so far and new ones continuing to debut at a fair rate of knots. I have no idea why Johannes Gistel, when he named this genus back in 1848, thought it to be especially zealous. My guess would be that there was probably no particular significance to the name; Gistel may have simply chose it in the well-established tradition of the time of providing organisms with classical names.

Members of the Gnaphosidae, the family of spiders to which Zelotes belongs, do not construct a permanent web but are ground-running active hunters. ‘Running’ being the operative word: part of the reason why new gnaphosid species continue to be described even from well-populated parts of the world is that, if you want to describe them, first you have to catch them. Zelotes species seem to be generalist in their habitats, with members of a single species found in a wide range of environments. Gnaphosids are something of a notoriously difficult group of spiders to identify, and Zelotes is no exception. Distinguishing features of Zelotes include the presence of a ventrodistal comb of stiff hairs on the metatarsi of the third and fourth pairs of legs, used in preening; the posterior median pair of eyes being roughly similar in size to the outer posterior eyes (gnaphosids have eight eyes in two rows of four); and the presence of an extra sclerite in the male genitalia (Ubick 2005). The genital sclerite was recognised as an important characteristic of the genus by Platnick & Shadab (1983), but their review was mostly restricted to North American species. Many species in other parts of the world remain unrevised, and future studies may affect their placement in Zelotes.

That said, most Zelotes species are fairly uniform in overall appearance (but then, so are gnaphosids in general). The species pictured at the top of this post is European. Compare it with a typical East Asian species:

Female Zelotes iriomotensis, photographed by Akio Tanikawa.

Or a North American species:

Female Zelotes fratris, photographed by Kyron Basu.

In general, the myriad Zelotes species can only be distinguished by examination of their genitalia. Most of us would be doing well to even identify it as a Zelotes.

Systematics of Zelotes
<==Zelotes Gistel 1848 [Zelotinae]ZO11
    |--Z. apricorum (Koch 1876)VPB11
    |--Z. aurantiacusSS02
    |--Z. carmeli (Cambridge 1872)K55
    |--Z. caucasicusSS02
    |--Z. clivicolaRKD02
    |--Z. electusBV00
    |--Z. erebeusSS02
    |--Z. femellus (Koch 1866)K55
    |--Z. flavens (Koch 1873) [=Prothesima flavens]PO95
    |--Z. fratrisJVHN90
    |--Z. fuligineus (Purcell 1907)HD-S02
    |--Z. latreillei (Simon 1878)K02 [=Prosthesima latreilliiV09; incl. P. atraS06]
    |--Z. longipes (Koch 1866)BBM02
    |--Z. mandlaensis Tikader & Gajbe 1976PO95
    |--Z. mundus (Kulczynski 1897)SS02
    |--Z. pedestris (Koch 1837)VPB11
    |--Z. rusticusJD-S07
    |--Z. sarawakensis (Thorell 1890) (see below for synonymy)PO95
    |--Z. shantae Tikader 1982PO95
    `--Z. subterraneus (Koch 1833)VPB11

Zelotes sarawakensis (Thorell 1890) [=Prothesima sarawakensis; incl. P. iusta Kulczyński 1911, Zelotes iustus, Z. justus]PO95

*Type species of generic name indicated


[BV00] Bayram, A., & M. İ. Varol. 2000. Spiders active on snow in eastern Turkey. Zoology in the Middle East 21: 133–137.

[BBM02] Bonte, D., L. Baert & J.-P. Maelfait. 2002. Spider assemblage structure and stability in a heterogeneous coastal dune system (Belgium). Journal of Arachnology 30 (2): 331–343.

[HD-S02] Haddad, C. R., & A. S. Dippenaar-Schoeman. 2002. The influence of mound structure on the diversity of spiders (Araneae) inhabiting the abandoned mounds of the snouted harvester termite Trinervitermes trinervoides. Journal of Arachnology 30 (2): 403–408.

[JVHN90] Jennings, D. T., W. M. Vander Haegen & A. M. Narahara. 1990. A sampling of forest-floor spiders (Araneae) by expellant, Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, Maine. Journal of Arachnology 18: 173–180.

[JD-S07] Jocqué, R., & A. S. Dippenaar-Schoeman. 2007. Spider Families of the World. Royal Museum for Central Africa: Tervuren (Belgium).

[K02] Koponen, S. 2002. Ground-living spiders in bogs in northern Europe. Journal of Arachnology 30 (2): 262–267.

[K55] Kraus, O. 1955. Spinnen von Korsika, Sardinien und Elba (Arach., Araneae). Senckenbergiana Biologica 36: 371–394.

[PO95] Platnick, N. I., & V. I. Ovtsharenko. 1995. An Australian ground spider of the genus Zelotes (Araneae: Gnaphosidae). Records of the Western Australian Museum Supplement 52: 131–133.

Platnick, N. I., & M. U. Shadab. 1983. A revision of the American spiders of the genus Zelotes (Araneae, Gnaphosidae). Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 174 (2): 97–192.

[RKD02] Relys, V., S. Koponen & D. Dapkus. 2002. Annual differences and species turnover in peat bog spider communities. Journal of Arachnology 30 (2): 416–424.

[SS02] Samu, F., & C. Szinetár. 2002. On the nature of agrobiont spiders. Journal of Arachnology 30 (2): 389–402.

[S06] Strand, E. 1906. Die arktischen Araneae, Opiliones und Chernetes. In: Römer, F., & F. Schaudinn (eds) Fauna Arctica. Eine Zusammenstellun der arktischen Tierformen, mit besonder Berücksichtigung des Spitzbergen-Gebietes auf Grund der Ergebnisse der Deutschen Expedition in das Nördliche Eismeer im Jahre 1898 vol. 4 pp. 431–478. Gustav Fischer: Jena.

Ubick, D. 2005. Gnaphosidae. In: Ubick, D., P. Paquin, P. E. Cushing & V. Roth (eds) Spiders of North America: an identification manual pp. 69–74. American Arachnological Society.

[VPB11] Varet, M., J. Pétillon & F. Burel. 2011. Comparative responses of spider and carabid beetle assemblages along an urban-rural boundary gradient. Journal of Arachnology 39 (2): 236–243.

[V09] Verdcourt, B. (ed.) 2009. Additions to the wild fauna and flora of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. XXVI. Miscellaneous records. Kew Bulletin 64 (1): 183–194.

[ZO11] Zakharov, B. P., & V. I. Ovtcharenko. 2011. Morphological organization of the male palpal organ in Australian ground spiders of the genera Anzacia, Intruda, Zelanda, and Encoptarthria (Araneae: Gnaphosidae). Journal of Arachnology 39 (2): 327–336.

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