Myth: How to recognize hobo spiders

Myth: How to recognize hobo spiders

October 27, 2015
Rod Crawford

Myth: You can recognize the Hobo Spider by a chevron pattern on the abdomen, "boxing glove" shaped palps in front of the body, and funnel-shaped web.

Fact: This common idea is a misinterpretation of basically correct information found on the Internet about the hobo spider, a (possibly) medically important species of northwestern USA (see map, below) and Europe (and nowhere else). People will insist on finding a way (no matter how bogus) to "recognize" a spider by so-called markings...

Map of hobo spider distribution

Hobo spider, Tegenaria (or Eratigena) agrestis. Real distribution in 2003; real bites do not occur outside pink area! Small dots are isolated populations.

True, this species often has a pattern of chevrons on the abdomen, but they are worthless in identification. That is one of the commonest pattern types among spiders, and literally thousands of species have it. What's more, it's not always present in hobo spiders — like other species, they are variable in color!

Again, hobo spiders do make a funnel web, but that is a characteristic of the entire spider family Agelenidae, with numerous species; even some non-agelenids make funnel-like webs; so the funnel does not mean hobo spider.

And again, it's true that male hobo spiders have enlarged pedipalps. But that doesn't mean you can recognize the species that way; every male spider on earth has enlarged palps! Those are the male sex organs, and naturally, males all have them. The fine structure of the palps is indeed one of the keys to identification, but to see how a hobo spider's palp differs from other male palps you need a microscope with at least 30x magnification.

As with most spiders, a naked-eye view is simply not enough to identify a hobo spider. Whole body photos on web sites (including the old Hobo Spider Web Site) are only for illustration and have no identification value; around 200 other species in the same region appear similar.

Please note that if you live outside its range (pink area on map), you don't have hobo spiders!



Figures below:

Some hobo spiders have a strong chevron pattern, some a weak one, and some have none at all. All male spiders have enlarged palps, from the tiny Dictyna to the largest tarantulas, without all being hobo spiders! Between 1000-2000 known spider species make funnel webs, without all being hobo spiders!

Hobo spider illustration

Hobo spider
Illustration: Margaret Davidson

hobo spider

The hobo spider is not distinctive, but looks like hundreds of other species!
Photo: Bob Thomson

Male spider, Dictyna sublata

Male spider, Dictyna sublata. Not a hobo spider!

Funnel web

Typical funnel web, Agelenopsis oregonensis. Not a hobo spider web!
Photo: Rod Crawford

Update: It's been 28 years since my late friend Darwin Vest found severe effects on laboratory rabbits bitten by male hobo spiders. His data led everyone to assume that hobo spiders caused many apparent human "spider bite" cases. However, over the past quarter century, not one patient has come forward who (1) was initially healthy, (2) developed the "typical hobo spider bite symptoms," and (3) was able to produce any spider that had bitten him/her. Within the range of the brown recluse, genuine necrotic-bite patients recover the spider about 20% of the time, so "hobo spider victims" should have managed it at least once. On the other hand, several humans and dogs developed no significant symptoms when bitten by hobo spiders that were recovered and identified. Some such cases can be explained as "dry bites," but it seems increasingly likely that these "hobo spider bite" cases, or most of them, are not actually being caused by a spider. Biochemical work on the venom and microbiology work on the mouthparts support the idea that hobo spiders are probably harmless.

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Information on this web site is not a substitute for professional medical advice, and should not be used to diagnose or treat a medical or health condition. You should consult a physician as to any symptoms that may require diagnosis or treatment. Genuine spider bites can sometimes require medical attention, but beyond that, several medical conditions commonly mistaken for spider bite can be even more serious. If you have what appears to be a serious spider bite, please contact your health care provider or local emergency services. If you have the actual spider that bit someone, always save it for identification by a professional arachnologist.

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