Trapdoor Spiders

Trapdoor spiders are curious looking creatures and are named after the way they construct their burrows – complete with a trapdoor for privacy and catching prey. These spiders are found worldwide but require certain habitat features to survive. In North America, Trapdoor spiders range from Virginia, South to Florida and West to California.
California Trapdoor Spider Inside Door

California Trapdoor Spider (Bothriocyrtum califonicum)

California Trapdoor Spider

The California Trapdoor Spider lives in native chaparral and mid-level forest habitats, however, its tunnels can also be found in natural areas of soil, free from plants, like hillside slopes. The female burrows into hillsides or low embankments along trails and makes a perfect hole with a trapdoor that resembles an upside down ‘D.’ The door is hinged with silk for sneaking out and catching unsuspecting prey.
Drawing of a entrance to trapdoor spider burrow

Trapdoor Spider doors are shaped like an upside down ‘D.’

Creating the Burrow

A Trapdoor spider resembles a small tarantula but with shiny, rather than hairy legs. Trapdoor spiders are about 2-2 ½ inches in length and are well-equipped for tunneling. Their chelicerae (jaws) have digging rakes (rastella) that loosen dirt when digging. The female spider rolls the dirt into a ball and throws it away from the burrow, with her strong, massive legs.
Open door of trapdoor spider burrow

Female Trapdoor Spider Inside Burrow

Trapdoor Spider Burrows are lined with silk webbing and look like hollow tubes about 8 inches in depth. The female Trapdoor spider lays her eggs in the fall, at the bottom of the burrow, and then covers them with a sac attached to the tunnel wall. Once the spiderlings hatch, she cares for and feeds them all through the winter. Males wander around in the fall, searching for females to mate with and then it’s the female that is responsible for building and maintaining a home for her spiderlings.
Close up of a trapdoor spider

Trapdoor spiders look like small tarantulas
but with shiny legs.

Enemies of the Trapdoor Spider

The spider is non-aggressive but may rear up and show its fangs if harassed. An enemy of the Trapdoor spider is the Spider wasp which seeks out a burrow, paralyses the Trapdoor spider and drags it back to feed to her young. Other enemies include small animals that dig up the burrows to eat the spiders.
Trapdoor spider catching a cricket

Drawing of a Trapdoor spider catching a cricket to feed to her young.

Food and Feeding Spiderlings

When a potential meal comes close such as cricket or even a small lizard, the spider uses its strong chelicerae to hold the trap door shut. She waits until the prey is close enough to the door and can feel a vibration from its passing, then quickly throws the lid open, grabs the unsuspecting cricket and returns with it, down the burrow where her spiderlings are waiting to eat. The trapdoors are very difficult to see and are closed so tight, only the spiders can open the doors without destroying them.

Are Trapdoor Spiders Pests?

Since the trapdoor spiders in California make their burrows along slopes in native chaparral and forest habitats, their distribution tends to be localized. Because of development, their habitats may be subject to destruction; these spiders would not be considered pests but a species to protect. Trapdoor spiders are non-aggressive and harmless to humans but as with any spider bite, it may sting. If you are lucky to have them on your property, they will help rid it of crickets and other pesky insects. References University of California, Irvine, Department of Entomology – Trapdoor Spiders. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County – Spider Identification. Wikipedia – Trapdoor Spiders.
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