This website is intended for everyone interested in spider, scorpions and other arachnids. It is the website of the South African National Survey of Arachnida (SANSA) a project coordinated by the ARC.
The whipspiders (order Amblypygi ) is a small group of arachnids represented by 120 species globally. Whipspiders are mainly known from tropical America, Africa and Asia. These strange animals with their very long front legs are known as whip-spiders or whip-scorpions. With animals like the romans, scorpions and ticks they belong to the class Arachnida, a group of animals all with eight legs.
However, they are not true spiders as they do not produce any silk or
venom. Their common name refers to the whiplike movements of their first pair of
They are nocturnal predators and prey on any invertebrate,
which can be overpowered. Whip-spiders are flat animals and their colour varies
from dark brown to yellowish-brown with numerous dark spots and markings over
their bodies and legs giving them a mottled appearance, which enables them to
blend in with their surroundings. They are fairly large and can reach a size of
upto 20 mm. The head and thorax part of the body is wider than long and bears
the eight small eyes arranged in three groups. The middle pair of eyes is near
the fore-edge with two groups of three eyes each on either side. Their
mouthparts consist of short chelicerae with of two segments. The palpi are very
large and powerful and resemble the pincers of scorpions. They are darker than
the rest of the body and bear many strong and sharply pointed tubercles and
setae on the inside, which they use to grasp and secure their prey. The abdomen
is oval-shaped and consists of twelve transverse segments. The first segment
forms the stalk with which the head and thorax are attached to the abdomen. They
have eight legs with the first pair being very long, slender and whiplike in
appearance. In a full grown specimen the front leg may measure upto 25 cm from
tip to tip. These legs are provided with numerous sensory organs. They are not
used in walking and are exceptionally mobile. While the owner rests, it is in
constant touch with the surroundings, gently turning and twisting in a curious
manner. The front legs are also used during courtship. They are usually found in
narrow crevices, under stones or bark. They are hardy animals and can survive
long periods without food or water. They take about two years to reach maturity
and live for several years. They do not possess any venom, and only use their
palpi to grab and hold their prey. Virtually any invertebrate that they can
overpower is taken. The prey is captured with the palpi while the chelicerae cut
off pieces which they masticate before they start to feed. They are meat eaters
and are not very selective in choice of prey.
In the field they are found under the bark of trees and even in
dead wood. They are shy nocturnal animals. They are very agile and their
flattened bodies enable them to scurry into narrow slits under rocks or bark
when disturbed. They drink water and use their pincers to bring the water to
their mouths when drinking. Whip-spiders take about two years to reach maturity
and live for several years. During the rainy season an average of 36 eggs are
produced which the female carries in a dark and slightly transparent sac
attached to the ventral surface of her abdomen. The developing eggs and embrios
are fed by the mother through a connection with her body. Like scorpions the
young are carried on the mothers back for a period of time before they disperse.
Whip-spiders play an important role in the balance of nature, are an asset and
need to be protected. Their prey include insects like crickets, locusts,
termites and cockroaches.
There are three species of whip spiders known from South
Africa. The more common species, Damon variegatus is widespread
throughout the eastern and southern regions of Africa while D.
annulatipes are endemic to KwaZulu-Natal and Phrynichodamon
scullyi endemic to small region in the Northern Cape. The distribution of
whip spiders seems to coincide with areas not receiving frost at night. They are
found in woodland as well as savanna areas and are found under bark of trees,
cracks and crevices in rocks and in leaf litter. In KwaZulu-Natal they also
occur in houses and outbuildings. They are absolutely harmless to man and
neither bite nor sting.
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Co-ordinators :A.S. Dippenaar-Schoeman, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org