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G. sanguinolenta dorsal side
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Subphylum: Chelicerata
Class: Arachnida
Order: Araneae
Infraorder: Araneomorphae
Family: Araneidae
Genus: Gasteracantha
Sundevall, 1833[1]
Type species
G. cancriformis
(Linnaeus, 1758)
  • Bunocrania Thorell, 1878
  • Paurotylus Tullgren, 1910

Gasteracantha is a genus of orb-weaver spiders first named by Carl Jakob Sundevall in 1833.[2] Species of the genus are known as spiny-backed orb-weavers, spiny orb-weavers, or spiny spiders. The females of most species are brightly colored with six prominent spines on their broad, hardened, shell-like abdomens. The name Gasteracantha is derived from the Greek gaster (γαστήρ), meaning "belly, abdomen", and akantha (άκανθα), meaning "thorn, spine".[3] Spiny-backed orb-weavers are sometimes colloquially called "crab spiders" because of their shape, but they are not closely related to the true crab spiders.[4] Other colloquial names for certain species include thorn spider,[5] star spider,[6] kite spider, or jewel spider.

Members of the genus exhibit strong sexual dimorphism. Females are several times larger than males, which lack prominent spines or bright colors.[4][5][7] Other genera in the same family are also known as spiny orb-weavers.[8]


Gasteracantha species are distributed worldwide in tropical and subtropical climates. The genus is most diverse in tropical Asia, from India through Indonesia.[1] One species, G. cancriformis, occurs in the Americas.[4]

Predators and defense mechanisms[edit]

Some species of orb-weavers use stridulation as an antipredator defense mechanism. [9] Orb-weavers' bites are generally harmless to humans.[10]

Taxonomy and systematics[edit]

Gasteracantha has a complex taxonomic history, and many questions of species limits and distribution and generic interrelationships remain unanswered. Furthermore, challenges include the variability within individual Gasteracantha species (e.g., color polymorphism and variable length and shape of spines), a lack of male specimens and descriptions for many species, missing or damaged type specimens, and ambiguous initial descriptions in 18th- and 19th-century scientific literature.[11] The 69 species currently recognized by World Spider Catalog include dozens of synonyms and subspecies, many based on literature well over 100 years old.[1]

A 2019 study examining three mitochondrial and two nuclear genes found that Gasteracantha is paraphyletic with respect to Macracantha, Actinacantha, and Thelacantha. M. arcuata is allied with G. hasselti and A. globulata, while T. brevispina is closer to G. kuhli and G. diardi. The authors, however, did not propose generic reassignments based on their findings.[11]

Micrathena orb-weavers in North and South America also have hardened abdomens with variously shaped spines, but they are not closely related to Gasteracantha within the orb-weaver family.[8]


As of November 2021, the genus Gasteracantha contains 69 species and 18 subspecies:[1]



  1. ^ a b c d e "Gen. Gasteracantha Sundevall, 1833". World Spider Catalog. Natural History Museum Bern. Retrieved 18 November 2021.
  2. ^ Sundevall, C. J. (1833). Conspectus Arachnidum. Lund, Sweden. p. 14.
  3. ^ "Genus Gasteracantha". BugGuide. Retrieved 2019-05-13.
  4. ^ a b c "Species Gasteracantha cancriformis - Spinybacked Orbweaver". BugGuide.net. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
  5. ^ a b Williams, Steven. "Spiky Spiders". More than a Dodo. Oxford Museum of Natural History. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
  6. ^ Horwell, David; Oxford, Pete (August 2005). Galápagos Wildlife (2 ed.). Chalfont St Peter, Bucks SL9 9QE, England: Bradt Travel Guides Ltd. p. 26. ISBN 9781841621005.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  7. ^ Sankaran, Pradeep M.; Jobi, Malamel J.; Sebastian, Pothalil A. (February 2015). "Redescription of the orb-weaving spider Gasteracantha geminata (Fabricius, 1798) (Araneae, Araneidae)". Zootaxa. 3915 (1): 147–150. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.3915.1.10. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
  8. ^ a b Scharff, Nikolaj; Coddington, Jonathan A.; Blackledge, Todd A.; Agnarsson, Ingi; Framenau, Volker W.; Szűts, Tamás; Hayashi, Cheryl Y.; Dimitrov, Dimitar (23 April 2019). "Phylogeny of the orb‐weaving spider family Araneidae (Araneae: Araneoidea)". Cladistics. 36: 1–21. doi:10.1111/cla.12382. hdl:1956/22200.
  9. ^ Corey, T. B., & Hebets, E. A. (2020). Testing the hypothesized antipredator defence function of stridulation in the spiny orb-weaving spider, Micrathena gracilis. Animal Behaviour, 169, 103–117. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2020.09.003
  10. ^ "Urban Spider Chart".
  11. ^ a b Tan, Ji; Chan, Zi Yang; Ong, Ching Ang; Yong, Hoi Sen (14 February 2019). "Phylogenetic relationships of Actinacantha Simon, Gasteracantha Sundevall, Macracantha Hasselt and Thelacantha Simon spiny orb-weavers (Araneae: Araneidae) in Peninsular Malaysia" (PDF). Raffles Bulletin of Zoology. 67: 32–55. doi:10.26107/RBZ-2019-0003. Retrieved 3 August 2019.

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