Spiders are an order of arachnids, divided into seven families and 44,450 species. They are air-breathing arthropods with chelicerae, eight legs and two body segments called cephalothorax and opisthosoma (abdomen), that are joined by a small cylindrical pedicel.
Like all arachnids, the hemocoel (internal cavity of the mesoderm for carrying fluids), though very small, allows the hemolymph to reach, oxygenate and feed tissues and organs and to eliminate bypass products. The intestine is so narrow that spiders cannot eat any solid lumps, however small, and they need to liquefy their food by means of several digestion enzymes as well as to use their masticatory system to grind it finely. In all except the most primitive group, the Mesothelae, spiders have the most centralized nervous system of all. Arthropods as all their ganglia, are fused into one mass in the cephalotorax. Unlike most arthropods, spiders have no extensor muscles in their limbs and instead extend them by hydraulic pressure. The back end of the abdomen has spinnerets which extrudes silk, used to trap prey and build webs.
Silk extruded by spiders is considered to have higher lightness, resistance and flexibility than any other synthetic material elaborated so far.
There is only one species of vegetable-eating spiders, described in 2007; all other species are predators of other spiders and insects; larger species can also easily prey on small birds and lizards.
Several studies and scientific observations have shown that young specimens complete their diet with nectar, whereas the adults prefer to supplement their diet with pollen. Several species of these spiders (Chelicerata) have become predisposed to secrete into their prey paralyzing venom, which can be strong enough to threaten the life of a human. Recently, small doses of this venom have been used in experiments for therapeutic purposes or as 'green' insect killers.
Many spiders prepare to attack their prey by waiting in ambush to entrap them into their sticky webs. The species using this tactic are very sensitive to the slightest vibrations that shake the web. These species are endowed with excellent sight, up to ten times sharper then a dragonfly.
Some spiders are particularly skillful in applying different tactics to overpower the prey, even learning new ones when needed. Some species have changed their appearance by looking so similar to ants to be mistaken for them. Webs can vary noticeably in shape, thread thickness and size. Apparently, earliest spiders weaned orbicular (spherical) webs; only few species still use that shape: the majority of spiders prefer to extend and entangle their web as much as possible so that the insect will fall into a web with the highest air volume.
The pedipalps (or palpi, i.e. appendixes located underneath or beside the mouthparts) of male spiders have become syringe-shaped for sperm to be injected into the female’s genitalia. Time and again spiders have to engage in complex courtship rituals to get near the female and inseminate it, taking care of not being devoured. Males of most species manage to survive mating and the female allows them to stay at the edges of the web for some time after mating. On the other hand, males of some species offer as a meal after mating, likely to provide more nutrients to their offspring. Female of some species build a silk egg-case, each of which contains at least a hundreds eggs. Newly born young ones are unable to find food until they have completed their first molt. Until then, the mother or female will take care of feeding them by sharing their prey.
Only few species of spiders show social behaviour, building webs together with other groups (even several thousands of them). Social behaviour varies: from the surprising tolerance shown by the aggressive black widow to groups of spiders organising a coordinate hunt and sharing their prey. Most spiders live 2 years at most, only some specimen of tarantula and some Mygalomorphae in captivity being known to have survived as long as 25 years.
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