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Not to be confused with spider crab.
Ozyptila praticola - front (aka).jpg
Ozyptila praticola
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Arachnida
Order: Araneae
Suborder: Opisthothelae
Infraorder: Araneomorphae
Family: Thomisidae
Sundevall, 1833[1]

See List of Thomisidae genera.

175 genera, 2,155 species

Thomisidae is a family of spiders, including about 175 genera and over 2,100 species. The common name crab spider is often applied to species in this family, but is also applied loosely to many other species of spiders. Among the Thomisidae, "crab spider" refers most often to the familiar species of "flower crab spiders", though not all members of the family are limited to ambush hunting in flowers.

Crab Spider feeding on a Junonia atlites butterfly in a Zinnia elegans flower.

"Crab spider" as a name in common use[edit]

Rationalisation for the name crab spider is generally subjective and anecdotal. It is commonly said to refer to a fancied resemblance to crabs, or to the way such spiders hold their two front pairs of legs, or their ability to scuttle sideways or backwards. Some spiders so called have bodies that are flattened and angular. At all events, the Thomisidae are the family most generally referred to as "crab spiders". However, some members of the Sparassidae are called "giant crab spiders", Selenopidae are called "wall crab spiders", and various members of Sicariidae are sometimes called "six-eyed crab spiders".[3] Some unrelated orb-weaver spider species such as Gasteracantha cancriformis also are commonly called "crab spiders".

Such names are of little biological significance, and the following emphasis is on the Thomisidae.


Thomisidae do not build webs to trap prey, though all of them produce silk for drop lines and sundry reproductive purposes; some are wandering hunters and the most widely known are ambush predators. Some species sit on or beside flowers or fruit, where they grab visiting insects. Individuals of some species, such as Misumena vatia, are able to change color over a period of some days, to match the flower on which they are sitting. Some species frequent promising positions among leaves or bark, where they await prey, and some of them will sit in the open, where they are startlingly good mimics of bird droppings. However, note that these members of the family Thomisidae are not to be confused with the spiders that generally are called bird dropping spiders, not all of which are close relatives of crab spiders.

Other species of crab spiders with flattened bodies, either hunt in the crevices of tree trunks or under loose bark, or shelter under such crevices by day, and come out at night to hunt. Members of the genus Xysticus hunt in the leaf litter on the ground. In each case, crab spiders use their powerful front legs to grab and hold on to prey while paralysing it with a venomous bite.

The spider family Aphantochilidae was incorporated into the Thomisidae in the late 1980s. Aphantochilus species mimic Cephalotes ants, on which they prey.

The spiders of Thomisidae are not known to be harmful to humans. However, spiders of an unrelated genus, Sicarius, which are sometimes referred to as "crab spiders", or "six-eyed crab spiders", are close cousins to the recluse spiders, and are highly venomous, though human bites are rare.

Sexual dimorphism[edit]

Several different types of sexual dimorphism have been recorded in crab spiders. Depending on the species, variation in color among males and females has been known to exist. The most apparent dimorphism, however, is the difference in size. In some species, this is relatively small; females of Misumena vatia are roughly twice the size of their male counterparts.[4] In other cases, the difference is extreme; one study recorded the average mass of Thomisus onustus females as 257 mg and that of males as 4 mg, making the females more than 60 times as massive as the males. A similar ratio was found in Misumena vatia.[5] This large size generally does not play a significant role in predation because Thomisidae are very successful at camouflaging their bodies. [6]

There have been several different proposals as to the underlying cause of such differences. The most widely acknowledged hypothesis is the fecundity hypothesis, which states that females are larger so that they can produce more eggs and healthier offspring. A larger female can carry more eggs, thus creating a favorable reproductive strategy. Because males do not carry and lay eggs, size is not as important and they can expend energy on other traits or behaviors.[7] This phenomenon has been observed in Thomisidae as well as other sister groups. [8]

A few alternative hypotheses to the fecundity hypothesis exist as well. The gravity hypothesis specifically addresses those cases in which the dimorphism is a result of a decrease in size in males. The hypothesis suggests that smaller thomisid males are able to move across a bridging line with greater ease, which in turn provides them with more opportunities to find mates.[5] Other researchers claim that sexual size dimorphism in crab spiders evolved independently of selection, and there is no clear reason as to why females are larger in size than males.[9]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Family: Thomisidae Sundevall, 1833". World Spider Catalog. Natural History Museum Bern. Retrieved 2015-10-30. 
  2. ^ "Currently valid spider genera and species". World Spider Catalog. Natural History Museum Bern. Retrieved 2015-10-30. 
  3. ^ Filmer, Martin (1997). Southern African Spiders. City: BHB International / Struik. ISBN 1-86825-188-8. 
  4. ^ "Flower (a.k.a. Goldenrod) Crab Spider (Misumena vatia)". Woodland Park Zoo. Retrieved 2015-10-30. 
  5. ^ a b Corcobado, G.; Rodríguez-Gironés, M.A.; De Mas, E. & Moya-Laraño, J. (2010). "Introducing the refined gravity hypothesis of extreme sexual size dimorphism". BMC Evolutionary Biology 10: 236. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-236. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ Head, G. (1995). "Selection on Fecundity and Variation in the Degree of Sexual Size Dimorphism Among Spider Species (Class Araneae)". Evolution 49: 776–781. doi:10.2307/2410330. 
  8. ^ Hormiga, G, Scharff N, Coddington, J.A. 2000. The Phylogenetic Basis of Sexual Size Dimorphism in Orb-Weaving Spiders (Araneae, Obiculariae). Systematic Biology. 49: 435-462.
  9. ^ Prenter, J.; Elwood, R.W. & Montgomery, W.I. (1998). "No Association between Sexual Size Dimorphism and Life Histories in Spiders". Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 265 (1390): 57–62. doi:10.1098/rspb.1998.0264. 

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