There are strange little towers on the forest floor. Neat, right? Nope. Inside hides a spider that's cunning, patient and ruthless.
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Most Bay Area hikers pass right by without ever noticing, but a careful eye can spot tiny towers rising up from the forest floor. These mysterious little tubes, barely an inch high, are the homes of a particularly sneaky predator -- the California turret spider.
“To me, the turrets look just like the rook in a chess set,” said Trent Pearce, a naturalist for the East Bay Regional Park District, as he scanned the terrain at Briones Regional Park. “The spiders themselves are super burly – like a tiny tarantula the size of your pinky nail.”
Turret spiders build their towers along creek beds and under fallen trees in forested areas throughout Central and Northern California. They use whatever mud, moss, bark and leaves they can find nearby, making their turrets extremely well camouflaged.
They line the inside of their tiny castles with pearly white silk, which makes the structure supple and resilient
Each turret leads down to a burrow that can extend six inches underground. The spiders spend their days down there in the dark, protected from the sun and predators.
As night falls, they climb up to the entrance of the turrets to wait for unsuspecting prey like beetles to happen by.
Turret spiders are ambush hunters. While remaining hidden inside their turret, they’re able to sense the vibrations created by their prey’s footsteps.
That’s when the turret spider strikes, busting out of the hollow tower like an eight legged jack-in-the-box. With lightning speed the spider swings its fangs down like daggers, injecting venom into its prey before dragging it down into the burrow.
“It’s like the scene in a horror movie where the monster appears out of nowhere – you can’t not jump,” Pearce said.
--- What do turret spiders eat?
Turret spiders mostly ground-dwelling arthropods like beetles but they will also attack flying insects like moths that happen to land near their turrets.
--- Are turret spiders dangerous to people?
Turret spiders are nocturnal so it’s rare for them to interact with humans by accident. They tend to retreat into their underground burrow if they feel the vibrations of human footsteps. They do have fangs and venom but are not generally considered to be dangerous compared to other spiders. If you leave them alone, you shouldn’t have anything to fear from turret spiders.
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---+ For more information:
Learn to Look for Them, and California’s Unique “Turret Spiders” are Everywhere
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