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How to Capture Burrowing Spiders (trapdoors, funnelwebs, wishbones, wolfs, etc.)

Discussion in 'True Spiders & Other Arachnids' started by RezonantVoid, Oct 10, 2018.

  1. RezonantVoid

    RezonantVoid Arachnoknight Arachnosupporter

    I have been asked this so many times by people i feel i should just make this thread and link it to them instead of typing the same thing so many times.


    Ever tried chasing down a spider of any kind? You're literally a few millimetres away when BOOP it disapears down a hole. The feeling of dread washes over you, you may NEVER get to capture this spider as it knows your tactics and will flee to its burrow. In desperation you try digging it up only to find your shovel smears dirt over the hole and you have no idea what you're even digging up aside from worms. THIS is where this thread comes in.

    You will need a garden trowel (small hand shovel), a small stick/brush, a container*

    Congradulations, one of the hardest parts is over. Find your spider burrow and get your gear!

    Pretty important step, this will prevent sand and excavated substrate falling into your little pit. Clear away any loose topsoil and make a shallow "O" shaped trench around the burrow*.

    Instead of digging at the hole directly which will make it extremely hard to see where you're supposed to dig and may harm the spider, dig the trench to about 10cm deep, leaving the section of burrow in the middle and break away that central 10cm section of burrow once you're done. This will show you which direction the burrow is going in and help you adjust the dimensions of the trench. This first 10cm of topsoil may be hard and have lost of grass roots depending on the soil, but if you get past this it generally becomes much easier.

    Basically, repeat the above step another 10-15cm down, keeping the section of soil with the burrow in it either in the middle of your pit or to one side. once you've dug down again just break away the next section of burrow, which usually contains the sedimentory and rejectamenta (undigested parts of their food) chamber. This will usually show you the final direction the bottom chamber of the burrow is going in if it changes at all.

    This step only applies if the next section of burrow is going toward the sides of your little pit. Just use your trowel to cut away a bit more soil off the pit sides to enable you to continue digging. You can bypass this but it will make the excavation rather cramped and you'll probably end up getting bitten.

    The last and most delicate bit. repeat the above steps one last time until the pit roughly 30-40cm deep*. This last section of burrow you break away should reveal a bunch of crunched bug spells and a section of silk that feels somewhat rubbery; this is because the spider is inside it. Once you have found this bottom chamber you will need to very carefully brush around it with a small stick/brush until it is loose enough to pull out of the ground. In the photo below this chamber is fairly easy to remove and is a white-ish looking section of soil a bit above my finger shadows.

    That's it! You've done it! You can plop your newly captured spider in a temporary container or straight into it's proper enclosure, but it is best to let it recover for a while in a dark quiet place inside its little burrow compartment. Make sure you give them at least 20cm of soil to dig in depending on the species. Enjoy your new spider!*

    Theres a few things i want to mention though:

    *For demonstration purposes i did this with a harmless Arbanitis species trapdoor spider, but you have may want to wear some gloves if you are unsure what spider you are digging up or if you know the species to be medically significant.
    *For species such as wishbone spiders which have multiple entrances to the same burrow, you may need to make the pit slightly wider until you find the central burrow shaft.
    *The species demonstrated digs burrows only 30-40cm deep. Your spider may dig further or less, so don't panic you cant find the spider once you reach this depth.
    *I would STRONGLY reccomend AGAINST doing this with tarantulas, not only do many dig very extensive and winding burrows several metres deep, but if you somehow manage to get to the bottom chamber there is a high possibility they will bite you through the wall of the burrow. Either that or they will rush out and end up hurting you or themselves.

    This took me only about 40 minutes in total as the soil had been compacted by a BOBCAT excavator recently and it was very hard. However, i can normally do this in 15-20 minutes. Your soil type may affect this time though.
    Make sure to wear a hat and drink plenty of water, if it's very sunny wear sunscreen. I was doing this in full sun, 33*c and like 75% humidity which was pretty draining, i'd reccomend taking some breaks; your spider will be unlikely to flee in this time.

    And lastly, ONLY COLLECT WILD SPECIMENS MANAGEABLY!! Do not overcollect and depopulate species from their wild habitats, use this strategy with moderation.
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2018
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  2. RezonantVoid

    RezonantVoid Arachnoknight Arachnosupporter

    As mentioned, i spent alot of effort making this so i'd love to hear feedback from anyone who has given this a shot and let me know how it went for them!
  3. chanda

    chanda Arachnoprince Active Member

    That is very useful - and well documented! I love the step-by-step pictures!

    You did leave out one very important bit, though - how do you find the dang things in the first place?!? :p
    I live in Southern California, and I know we have native trapdoor and folding door spiders - but I've never even seen one!
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  4. antinous

    antinous Pamphopharaoh Arachnosupporter

    Really interesting! I've wanted to collect some field specimens and now I know how haha.
    Would flooding the burrow also work?
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  5. RezonantVoid

    RezonantVoid Arachnoknight Arachnosupporter

    flooding can work, but many species have an air chamber they will close off which can let them stay submerged for hours, so you'll have to wait quite a while
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  6. RezonantVoid

    RezonantVoid Arachnoknight Arachnosupporter

    haha, i guess i did. This species is easy to find Down Under as they dont make trap doors. a good idea is to go around suspected areas with a leaf blower, eventually you will blow some lids up. Alot of trapdoors live in a dense communities as they lose water extremely quick outside the burrow and dont stray far from the mother once leaving the mother's burrow.
  7. WildSpider

    WildSpider Arachnobaron Active Member

    This is really helpful Rezonant, thanks for posting it. If I find some more trapdoors, maybe I can try this method.
  8. chanda

    chanda Arachnoprince Active Member

    One of the problems with flooding is it can require a lot of water - and the spiders may not be conveniently burrowed right next to a garden hose or other water source, meaning you have only whatever water you brought with you.
  9. RezonantVoid

    RezonantVoid Arachnoknight Arachnosupporter

    That's another reason i dislike flooding, but i gathered some kinda useful data today. It was raining at the jobsite where these trapdoors are and alot of them got submerged in a large but shallow puddle. I poked around at a few of the entrances and noticed a movement that could only have been the spider holding the entrance closed. Submerging the immediate ground around the burrow may prompt some species to rush to the entrance. As for finding them i forgot to mention something; look for moist microclimates or areas of exposed topsoil near such zones. They need humid burrow conditions to not dehydrate. Additionally, i have noted alot of trapdoors across various genus' appear to ocuppy banks or short slopes, my presumption is that they prefer digging horizontally as it is easier to hinge their burrow lids this way, and this may prevent the situation i found my local ones in today happening to them.
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2018
  10. RezonantVoid

    RezonantVoid Arachnoknight Arachnosupporter

    Boy oh boy i've forgotten so many things to add! I was also going to mention many Lycosa genus wolf spiders have burrows of a similar depth but are rather windy and all over the place. Be prepared for an up to 1 hour long excavation if you're after something like L.Leuckarti. I would recomend gloves with wolfs as alot are quite bitey.

    An adjustment to my statement about flooding too; some trapdoors can remain submerged for weeks in a flooded environment. Flooding works better with burrowers like funnelwebs, but probably a waste of time and water trying it out on trapdoors.
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