Family Tetragnathidae
Long-Jawed Orb Weavers
Tetragnathids spin less elaborate webs than Araneae
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Tetragnatha elongata
Tetragnatha elongata
Larger spiders in this family are often found near water, especially moving water of rivers and streams. They build orb webs in the horizontal plane, often just inches above the surface of water where they can catch emerging insects like midges, mayflies, and stoneflies. I have seen them construct elaborate scaffolding atop plants at the water's edge, upon which they can travel quite rapidly, seemingly on thin air.

Smaller species build webs in fields and meadows, often in trees and shrubs or low foliage in the forest understory.  Most of their orb webs are built closer to the horizontal than vertical, with a large open area in the center through which the spider can pass to access both side of the web. Other species are active hunters and build only the aforementioned scaffolding.


Tetragnatha straminea

Nephila clavipes

Venusta Orchard Spider
Tetragnathid spiders are usually easy to identify by their eponymous huge, powerful chelicerae (jaws) and long, slender abdomen. Like the other family of orb weavers, the Araneidae, these spiders have eight eyes and 3 claws on each tarsus. There are about 25 species in North America [1].

The Venusta Orchard spider, a very common woodland arachnid, is a member of this family. The Venusta (after Venus, the goddess of beauty) spider is nearly ubiquitous in the forest understory here in northern Illinois where they sit upside down in their smallish (6-8 inches or so) horizontal orb webs. Their chelicerae are not nearly so prominent as other spiders in this family.

Long-jawed Orbweaver Spider
Tetragnatha laboriosa
The oldest fossil record of an orb-weaver is from the Lower Cretaceous. Several fossils provide direct evidence that the three major orb weaving families; Araneidae, Tetragnathidae and Uloboridae evolved  140 MYA..
macro photograph orb-weaver spider with parasite
Long-jawed orb weaver with ectoparasite
References
  1. Paul Hillyard, Private Life of Spiders (New Holland Publishers Ltd, 2007)
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