Through the Window

...exploring nature in winter.

Another year comes to an end. It was a year of exploring different places, discovering new creatures and new life, and gaining knowledge based on the memories and the experiences built over a few years. It was a long year, and I began learning many more things that I seemed to overlook in the past. And the curiosity started ever increasing as I looked in the dry thickets during autumn, when everything was slowing, distant and well hidden from sight.
Snow on bare branches
It is winter now, about time to bid farewell to 2009. The year had been warm and the snow far too less. The ground would have been covered in a foot of snow around this time they say, and when I look out through the window, there isn’t much snow at all.

There, through the window I did see flakes of snow lingering in the air. The air itself was thin and fair, and the weather old and cold. The trees were bare and except the conifers, only flecks of little grass were green. The landscape is dominated by skeleton of trees, and brown somber suburban houses are lined in a monotonous way. There are empty roads, frosty cars, and there is the sky bleak and gray, weighing lowly on the skyscrapers. It is winter for real without its white cloak.

As I looked at this still urban landscape, scanning the trees near and far, and gazing at the sky – I saw a lone Mourning Dove sitting quietly on the parapet. It seemed oblivious to my presence at first; hence I took the opportunity and photographed it through the window. The air was getting colder and snow wilder, yet the dove sat unstirred, only shuffling its feathers – trying to be cozy and ready for another cold day. So I went outside, slowly so, and once the dove saw me, it never took its eyes off me.
Zenaida macroura, Mourning Dove rests on the parapet
Approaching birds for photography is a risky task. 99% of the times, it never works and if the bird is very wild, the chance of approaching one is only 0.01% unless you are extremely well camouflaged or they come to you! This staggering probability of photographing a bird up-close and personal is further dimmed if you use a point-and-shoot camera! But I took the chance of photographing this one in the backyard, hoping that the temperature was not very low to affect my point-and-shoot’s working (my point-and-shoot manual does not recommend the cam to be used in sub zero temperatures), so keeping this in mind, and after several decent shots through the window, I dared to step outside and approach this bird – recalling the probability of disturbing it.
Mourning Dove looking on
Yet, to my surprise, after I opened the door – the dove, albeit staring at me all the time, did not move a bit! I took a few shots, and stepped outside, closing the distance between us one step at a time. It did not seem any comfortable and I was afraid I might cross the line of tolerance. He looked, took the alert pose by bending lower, getting ready to fly away. I, after noticing its unwillingness to greet me from close, stood there for a moment. This fellow dove must have thought I’m persistent, as I started approaching cautiously again. Surprisingly he seemed pretty relaxed and shuffled and played with its feathers thereafter! I was relived myself, and took some shots from nigh ten feet! I experimented with the shutter speed and managed a few decent shots at 1/80s by taking the support of the deck. The light was utterly low, which was a challenge for using a point-and-shoot that gives high levels of noise even at ISO 200! I backed out after some shots, and was successful in not disturbing it. The dove continued to sit there for some time and flew off as dusk approached.
Mourning Dove shuffling to be comfortable
The backyard is now empty, only the wind plays with the bare branches of maples and apples, and the weakened grass. But oft, there comes a feathered visitor to peck in the garden and in the snow. These are the ones that give a merry company, as I watch them through the window once in a while.

The fauna of this season is much colorful than I thought, and I always pictured winter to be a season where life is still, but the birds and squirrels are ever joyful, and bring delighting warmth that the weather lacks. Since all these birds are new to me, I took help of David Beadle to identify these birds, and relied much on the internet. One such – and the first – bird I observe over a few days is the Dark Eyed Junco.
Junco hyemalis, a male Dark Eyed Junco

It is a resident throughout winter, and is common at birdfeeders. These come in little flocks of around ten, and fly around together from one tree to another. There is no birdfeeder here, and I have seen them pecking in the dried thickets and in snow.

The males are conspicuous with a slaty blue color, a pinkish beak and a white belly, the body is round, a little smaller than a House Sparrow. The females are brownish and are easily distinguished from the males. The flocks have several males and females, and I have not observed any juveniles yet.
A male (above) and a female (below) on the parapet on a cold sunny day

The Dark Eyed Juncos are relatives of American Sparrows and are very commonly seen in the backyards. The second flock of bird that visits often is of Goldfinches, having shed their brilliant plumage; they cloak themselves in subtle shades of yellows – the winter plumage, and go around in small flocks from one garden to another. They are second most commonly seen birds around, and are a delight to watch.
Carduelis tristis, a male American Goldfinch scrambles through a dry thicket
I have seen several feeding on dried seeds and from the inside of the pinecones. The flock seen here is that of more or less seven individuals, and these are also said to be common at birdfeeders. Along with this flock comes a lone finch – either a Purple Finch or a Common Finch, which I have failed to photograph yet.
A female American Goldfinch eating from the dried inflorescence
Once in a while I sight a few Black Capped Chickadees jumping swiftly from one branch to the other. They are not as common here as I expected, but it maybe because I’m only looking through the window. They are not as patient as the other birds described here, but are a bunch of joys to watch.

Another, conspicuous yet elusive bird is the Northern Cardinal, this fellow resident male here is seen in its winter plume, and is just a speck of red feathers flying around the backyards. Sometimes the female shows up, and they both sing in chorus in the pine trees, hiding well inside, well protected from the cold winds. There was also a lone American Robin that visited the backyard and perched on the bare Maple.
An interesting visitor here was an Acipitor, a hawk. The identity of whom is uncertain – it is either a Sharp Shinned Hawk or a Cooper’s hawk juvenile. It was only once that I saw this beautiful hawk, as he swooped in from the adjoining backyards. What a sight it was!
A Cooper's Hawk or a Sharp Shinned Hawk takes a break on the Maple tree in the backyard
The two probably names are debatable, but both are bound to be seen around feeders. David Beadle suggested it to be a Cooper’s hawk – a bird more commonly sighted in the backyards during this year than Sharp Shinned Hawk.

Another raptor that I was lucky to see perched on a tree was a Red Tailed Hawk. It is one of the most widely spread birds of prey in North America. I have seen two of these fly around, probably in a territorial dispute in London ON.
Buteo jamaicensis, a Red-tailed Hawk scans from its perch
According to Wikipedia,
Because of its robust crispness, a certain recording of the cry of the Red-tailed Hawk is a cliché cinematic effect. This high, piercing scream is often featured in the background of adventure movies to give a sense of wilderness… the cry is often inaccurately used for Bald Eagles, whose own vocalizations are quiet different and less robust.

The ever present Eastern Gray Squirrels are always seen running o’er the parapet and on the trees, and I always see a supposed pair of a gray and a melanistic squirrel chasing one another. There are several individuals of both forms, with the melanistic being more conspicuous during this white season than the gray ones. They are wary as ever, yet watching them through the window is the best I can do, without disturbing them.
Scirus carolinensis, a melanistic Eastern Gray Squirrel is a common sighting all around the suburbs
A pair, I have been observing for a few days are always on a look out for each other. Most times it is the melanistic one chasing the gray squirrel, no idea whether it is the male, but that’s my assumption!
At play!
When there were none of these around, there were gulls flying high above in the skies, be it during a snowfall or during blinding sun. These high flying gulls were probably looking for food inland, and are a usual sight at garbage dumps and outside malls to pick up from the scrap. These water birds turned scavengers sometimes harass the pedestrians and are noisy, sometimes they scatter the garbage but most times they are just enjoying themselves.

All these animals discussed here are common during this season, and their company is welcoming during bleak winter days. All of them also share a “Least Concern” status of conservation according to IUCN, but that does not mean they are out of danger.

The dangers include natural causes such as snow storms, for which these animals are well equipped, thanks to the million years of evolution. The anthropogenic dangers faced by these are electric shocks from cable wires, loss of nesting and hibernating places and basically loss of habitat.

But one of the overlooked dangers is that caused by birdfeeders.

This interesting article - Feeding Birds shown to impact their Evolution will give you a deep insight in how we, in belief of being courteous to the birds, might affect their evolutionary patterns. The article is worth checking out, which does not state that birdfeeders are a bad thing, but explores the hidden cons that the birds may face in the future generations.

Although I believe that birdfeeders are like an oasis for the birds and squirrels and their predators, it is also a best site to photograph the same. Albeit all of this, when it comes to photographing these wild birds who are adjusting to the man-made artificial habitat, it is not as enjoyable as chasing them in the wild – or just watching them go around as they naturally would, even if it means staring through the window.

Seasons greetings and a happy New Year to you all!

Common Spider Families of Mumbai

“Will you walk into my parlour?" said the Spider to the Fly,
'Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I've a many curious things to shew when you are there."
– Mary Howitt 1821
Moult of a Pisaurid Spider

Spider is the most dangerous eight legged creature that walks the face of the earth. Who does not know what a spider is capable of? Naught one, but the most ignorant. It can hang from the ceiling, fall in your soup, and creep on your bed and under the blanket. It can crawl on your skin and tickle you all the way, or hide in your closet, well hidden during the day. Spider has long fangs and is a venomous bugger; it is aggressive and will readily attack you, if it, you bother. It is everywhere and nowhere, for often you cannot see it, yet it watches you, for it has six eyes – every eye staring right at you.

What made a spider so special, so dangerously beautiful? It has six eyes (or eight), two fangs, long spinnerets and many hands. It has a mind of a hunter – a stalker and an ambusher – a predator who is as bright as a tiger. It is fast and quick, superb jumper. It is cryptic and colorful, buoyant and patient. It is but a son and daughter of mother Earth.
A Jumping Spider
An Account

As they say, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. In case of spiders, it’s the creepiness that surpasses its beauty for many who fail to understand them well. Spiders are one of the thoroughly studied animals in the scientific world. There are about 40,000 described species (Wikipedia) spread into 109 families worldwide; in India, there are 59 described Families (Silwal, Molur and Biswas, 2005).

In here, only 19 commonest families seen in and around Mumbai have been listed. I am not relying on binomial names for some spiders merely identified through photos, but if you know a certain family of the spider by just looking at it, you can gain a whole insight into its short, yet far more adventurous life as compared to ours.

Over many years, spiders have fascinated me just the way the butterflies did. This animal with six or eight eyes placed like a crown of black beads on its head is a hunter, a killer. Yet there are subtle behaviors, there is romance, there is dancing and a very patient soul. If you look into the eyes of a spider, you don’t see a genetically automated animal – you see an individual, a personality that has evolved over 200 million years. Let’s count it in digits, 200,000,000 years. We, as a ‘modern’ man, are much, much younger compared to this ancient group of Arachnids, yet we seem to overlook them as a mere specie in this vast biodiversity of our planet.

The Spiders prefer various habitats, and knowing the habitat that a certain spider prefers, it becomes one step easier to find one. In Mumbai though, the habitat does not change as much, and hence spiders can be seen over various locations, in your balconies, backyards and the forestlands. The sixteen families listed here are easy to locate, easy to identify and easy to photograph. Most are seen only over a certain season, while some occur throughout the year. Some are rather difficult to find, and there are others that live in our houses, yet we do not notice them. I openly admit, I may have missed several family of spiders that are much common than the ones mentioned here, but I must have only overlooked them. Besides the spiders we’re about to see, there are some, rather uncommon ones seen around, for instance the Family Theridiidae is a rather common family, but hardly ever noticed. Then there is Theraphosidae family, famed for Tarantulas, common, yet not-so-commonly sighted across Mumbai. There is Corinnidae, often small, and confused with Clubionidae. Ctenidae, Deinopidae, Dictynidae, Linyphiidae and Zodariidae, are amongst others. There might be some I never noticed at all.
On a broad introduction to Spiders, I suggest you visit The Ultimate Spinner - Spiders. Whether you are in your backyard, at SGNP, Yeoor, Nagla Block and other parts of SGNP, or on the outskirts of Mumbai, spiders are a common sighting. Whether you like them or not, they are ever ready to welcome you with a wide spread orb-web on the forest paths, or by crawling on your shoes in the leaf litter, whether you sit on a rock, they’re sitting right beneath that rock, or whether you brush through a plant, they’re there, already jumping off the leaves for their lives. Or there are some you may find flying in the air, and some sitting pretty on a flower, or some resting comfortably on the surface of the water. If you have an eye for nature, keep it open for spiders. Spiders are a great subject for photographers. If you happen to like nature photography, it is impossible not to shoot these beautiful critters.

Salticidae: A very commonly found spider family, they are omnipresent in homes as well as dense forests, are easily identified by their stout body and two out of six big round eyes. These are commonly referred to as Jumping Spiders, due to the fact that they can jump over a considerable distance while hunting for prey, exploring a place, or, if scared.
These spiders come in myriad of colors from excellently camouflaging to stunningly beautiful coloration. There are plenty of genuses seen in Mumbai, but the most striking is the Myrmarachne, these Jumping Spiders disguise themselves as ants – literally, a spider that looks like an ant, and hence are superb ant hunters. Many species of Myrmarachne are seen in Mumbai.

Below are three different species of Ant-mimicking spiders seen around Mumbai.

A Tetraponera rufonigra ant-mimicking Myrmarachne sp. of Jumping Spider
Lycosidae: A spider commonly seen on the forest floor, in the leaf litter or on the boulders near ponds and streams. It is yet another easily identifiable spider family, due to its two prominent round eyes, and four small eyes just below these. They are rather dull in color and rely on camouflage for ambush hunting. It also supposedly stalks its prey, and is usually seen scanning the forest floor.
A Wolf Spider showing its typical eye-pattern
These spiders are commonly called Wolf Spider, since, they were thought to stalk their prey just as the wolves did, but in reality, these spiders rely on ambush, and hunt by surprising the prey. They, just like the Jumping Spiders, do not build web and wait for prey. Instead, the web is only used as a ‘safety-line’ while travelling from one place to another, or for building a nursery for laying eggs.
Cteus sp. resembles a Wolf Spider considerably, but notice the different eye pattern
Wolf Spiders are easily confused with Wandering Spiders (Family Ctenidae), which are common, but not as abundant as Wolf Spiders.

Tunnel-sheet Spider is a Lycosidae belonging spider, that spreads a sheet of web, and lives in a tunnel made by the web. It is often called as Funnel web Spider, which is the actual common name for the spiders belonging to Hexathelidae, which occurs in India, but is a relative of the tarantulas.

A Tunnel-sheet Spider, Hippasa sp. rests near its tunnel entrance. The web is covered in dew
A close-up of the Tunnel-sheet Spider, the eye-pattern is same as the Wolf Spider
Oxyopidae: Commonly called Lynx spiders, these rely on their camouflage and patience to catch a prey. They are mostly found sitting on flowers and leaf surfaces, waiting for prey to stop by. These have rather small eyes and hence not easily observable to a naked eye. The legs, however, are the key to identify these, since they are slender and spiny, i.e. literally like thorns of a cactus, and not hairy. Also, two thin dorsal lines run down the abdomen, and the cephalothorax is roughly rectangular in shape. These spiders come in various colors, from deep pink, to green and brown.
Oxyopes sp. - notice the eye pattern unique to Lynx Spiders and the thorny legs
They are very common during Monsoon months and fairly common during the dry season. The genus Oxyopes (about 6 or more species) and Peucetia are generally occurring in Mumbai.
Peucetia viridans, male - a common Lynx Spider
Tapponia genus is also seen during post-monsoon period.
Tapponia sp. (?), small Lynx Spiders - a female seen here guarding the eggsac
Lynx spiders also do not rely on web, and rather sit and wait for prey to come to them. However, the females use the web to build a nursery for eggs.
Oxyopes shweta, female guarding eggsac,
notice the difference in behavior of Oxyopes and Tapponia with regards to guarding the eggsac
Araneidae: One of the easily recognized families of spiders, thanks to their Orb-webs, these spiders are one of the marvelous web builders. But don’t go by those easily recognizable orb-webs, for it is also built by other family of spiders, which we will discuss shortly.
Argiope sp. - commonly known as Signature Spider
There are many species in this Family; commonest and easily recognized are the Garden Orb-weavers i.e., Neoscona sp., with a typical “cross” mark on the oval, eggshaped abdomen. However, these spiders are also difficult to identify up till species level due to a vast array of color morphs in a single species.
An old SLR scan of a Neoscona sp., showing the typical "cross"
on the abdomen - it is the most common Orb-weaver seen in Mumbai
Another commonly seen Orb-weaver is a Signature spider – Argiope sp., common throughout the seasons in forests (several species). These spiders are rarely seen in cities, rather common in suburban areas, and abundant in forests. Easily identifiable due to their zigzag satbilimenta, the fuzzy zigzag web seen near the center of the orb-web, and their typical “X” shaped sitting posture.
Argiope anasuja showing the stabilimenta
Gastracantha sp. are not as common as Argiope and Neoscona sp.
Other, beautiful and not-so-common, are the Spiny Orb-weavers, Gastracantha sp., which happen to be most colorful and vividly shaped, often with spines over the abdomen, and a variety of different shapes.

A Cyclosa sp., rests in the center of its collection
Some other common genus occurring here are Cyclosa sp., or sometimes called “Debri-collecting spiders”, these spiders collect debris, such as dried plant materials, seeds, and even insect parts. It then binds all of these in a line at the center of its orb-web, with the help of stabilimenta, and resst in between this collection, well camouflaged and nearly impossible to sight.

These spiders are generally small, less than a centimeter long. Their orb-webs are also much smaller, and hence not easily seen. They prefer building webs in thickets, bushes and seldom in openings, but never above waist level. It sometimes becomes difficult to see the spider in its collection of debris.
Close-up of Cyclosa sp.
Another, commonest species seen – in your balconies or most dense forests – are the Cyrtophora sp., commonly called Tent Spiders or Dome Spiders. These spiders do not build an orb-web; in fact it does not resemble an orb-web at all. These webs, however, are much complex than an Orb-web, and resemble a tent or a dome, hence the common name. These spiders are through to be the ‘precursors’ to the now orb-webs.
Cyrtophora sp., without its typical Tent shaped web
The spider, after building a web, rests right inside (in the center) the dome, and is a patient hunter. As the web gets older, the spider cuts and sheds it, and builds a new one. It is easy to identify this spider in its tent shaped web, since the web itself is its identity! It is, however, not so easy to distinguish it from other orb-weavers, since it has similar morphological characteristic. It can also be confused to Tetragnathidae spiders, if the spider is seen without its web.
Cyrtophora sp., sitting in in the Tent shaped web
Some uncommon ones that are seen in the region are Arachnura sp., Ordgarius sp., and Poltys sp.

Tetragnathidae: Commonly called “Long-jawed Orb-weavers” these, as the name partly suggests, build an orb-shaped web, yet, these are not the original Orb-weavers. They go by their name, though, since they have longer pedipalps and chelicerae, “long-jaws” that build orb-webs. However, the orb webs built by these are usually at an angle, or horizontal. There are several species seen in Mumbai, of which Leucauge sp. (pictured below) is most common. These spiders start to appear as monsoon wanes, and are most abundant during October, through winter and disappear by summer. They build a horizontal orb-web, and are beautifully colored, from green to brilliant orange. These spiders are commonly called “Orchard Spiders”, and, without their web – can be easily confused with Tent Spiders (Cyrtophora sp.).
Another commonly occurring genus is Tetragnatha, these are usually small, very slender, with an elongated abdomen, and these also build orb-webs, but are usually at an angle. These show the typical “long-jaws” and are common through the wet and dry seasons.
Tetragnatha sp., a small spider showing the long-jaws. Notice the Orb-web is at an angle
These spiders are mostly small, hence the eyes are not visible to the naked eye, and therefore cause much confusion with the Araneidae family of spiders. However, as discussed above, it generally relies of the position of the webs, absence of stabilimenta, and long pedipalps.

One, common and an unusual spider, often confused with the Araneidae family of spiders is Herennia ornatissima, the Ornate Orb-weaver. It is another unusual orb-weaver that builds an orb-web on the surface of the tree trunk. I have only seen one individual at Yeoor Hills, but have no photographic records of any.

Pholcidae: Who does not recognize these spiders? Surprisingly, many don’t recognize by its family. These are the famous “Daddy-long Legs” of the Spider World! These are the ones you will most commonly observe in your house, rather than anywhere in the woodlands.
Crossopriza sp. - a common spider seen in homes
Go to the corner of that room, see that messy thin web? On it rests a creepy, long legged spider with a tiny abdomen, and an invisible head. Yes, this is the family of Pholcidae – the spiders we strive hard to remove from our homes, and yet they end up coming back.

These, easily identifiable spiders are a doom to an aesthetically beautiful architecture, but the webs that these spiders build, although random and haphazardly built, are good air filterers. What’s more, these spiders never get caught in their own webs! These spiders capture mosquitoes, flies and ants that bite, hence act as good neighbors! But the aesthetics come first; hence these spiders are considered pests at homes.
An unidentified Pholcidae spider
I have observed these spiders to be rather weak and thin inside homes, and their brothers and sisters can grow to an impressive size outside, where the prey is more abundant.

Oecobiidae: We all know these spiders, and hate them as much as we hate the Pholcidae spiders (discussed above). These are small spiders, barely measuring a centimeter, that love to live in corners of our homes. They build a small, oval thin sheet of webs and rest inside it, waiting for prey. They are more so common where the corners are not cleaned, and are pretty fast if disturbed. These little spiders capture prey, and spin web around in circles, and retreats into its tiny web house.
An Oecibiidae spider, common in the corners of houses, size less than a centimeter
Looking up at these is not an easy task, but the shape of the web, and the picture provided above can be of some help.

Thomisidae: The infamous Crab Spiders, the masters of camouflage and beautiful colors, are spiders with two pairs of appendages held in front like a crab’s chelicerae, hence the common name. This is actually, a pose to strike the prey or to defend.
A Crab spider rests below Tridax inflorescence
These are rather common on flowers, leaves and seldom occur on non-natural structures. It is generally the females that we see commonly, and the males are very tiny, a dimorphism very common in spiders. They do not rely on webs, but use it as “safety lines” and to build a nursery to lay eggs.

The most commonly occurring genus is Thomisus sp., which are large and commonly seen in urban gardens.
A Thomisus sp., with a male on it's abdomen
Other genus, although difficult to see, are Ozyptila, Pistuis and Diaea are also common, yet difficult to sight.

Two of the rather interesting ones – that are not the typical crab-spider looking crab spiders are Runcinia sp., which has a rather elongated abdomen, and Amyciaea sp., the ones that mimic ants – usually Oecophylla smargdina (Weaver Ant), both of these are seen in Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
Runcinia sp., seen at Yeoor Hills
Hersiliidae: The “Two-tailed Spider” is a common spider, found on tree trunks and sometimes on wet walls. It is called so because of its two extra-long spinnerets that appear like tails. This spider is not large, but has considerably long feet, and stays motionless on the tree trunk, awaiting the approaching prey.
Hersilia sp., sits well camouflaged on the tree trunk
Once the prey is close enough, the spider strikes with a blinding speed, and spins web all around the prey in a circle. This spider also does not build a web, but uses it to wrap prey and to build a nursery for eggs.
A close-up of Hersilia sp., showing two long spinnerets
Scytodidae: A common, yet uncommon spider of Mumbai forests. Seen exclusively during monsoon seasons, it is a mystery where they vanish as soon as monsoon ends. These spiders are very unique, and their mysterious disappearance only adds to this uniqueness.
Scytodes sp., a Spitting Spider rests under the leaf
These spiders are called Spitting spiders, and “spit” out web from two glands just beside their mouth, and, this silk is coated in venom. The spider does not bite and then inject the venom, but shoots it at a short distance, and pounces on the unlucky prey. It has long legs, much like the Pholcidae spiders, and uses its extra long first pair of appendages to judge the distance between itself and the prey.

Only one genus Scytodes is found here, which are somewhat orange, with a light orange, striped small abdomen and a rather flat but dome shaped cephalothorax. These spiders rest in folded leaves.
Close-up of a Scytodes sp. consuming an Orb Weaver
It appears with the onset of monsoon, and as soon as new leaves open. As the monsoon proceeds, their size increases, and become more and more common throughout the forest trails. Yet, as soon as the leaves dry, they vanish. During their time, it is not uncommon to find two spiders in one folded leaf – perhaps a pair?

Gnaphosidae: Ground Spiders belong to this family, and are common throughout Mumbai, be it in your backyard or the forests or a rocky terrain. They are small, dark brown in color and quick runners. They appear more or less similar to jumping spiders (Salticidae), but are less hairy, with longer, fat legs and the two spinnerets are visible at the end of the abdomen, but their striking similarity is shared by Zodariidae.

Sparrasidae: The Huntsman spiders, belonging to the family Sparrasidae, are large spiders, and are rather commonly seen in homes and suburbs, than in forests. This could be because of their cryptic coloration, and nocturnal behavior.
A Huntsman Spider female carries the eggsac with herself
They may appear like Wolf (Lycosidae) or Nursery Web (Pisauridae) spider, but are considerably different if looked closely. These have a different eye-pattern, body pattern, and as well as prefer different habitat. These are commonly seen on walls and tree trunks or on/ under rocks. They are also called Giant Crab Spiders, but are in no way related to the real Crab Spiders (Thomisidae).
A Heteropoda sp., is another Sparassid commonly seen under rocks
Pisauridae: The Nursery Web Spiders or simply Water Spiders belong to this family. These are unique spiders, as all spiders are! They go by latter name of Water Spiders since these are mostly seen around waters, and sometimes onto waters, but it is not uncommon to see them on forest paths. The name "Nursery Web Spider" is not true to the Indian species, since only a European species, Pisaura mirabilis builds a nursery for the spiderlings.
A Water Spider, Thalassius albocinctus rests comfortably on the surface of water
They are often confused with Wolf Spiders (Lycosidae) but the easiest way to distinguish is the eye-pattern. These spiders are called Water Spiders because they hunt under water! They can maneuver themselves onto the water surface, and a fish or an invertebrate swimming by is attacked.
The Eye-pattern on Pisaurids is much different than Lycosidae and Sparassidae
Thalassius is the most common genus that occurs around Mumbai.

Clubionidae: This is a confusing family of Spiders; hence I shouldn’t really be talking about them here. These spiders are off white in color, and rather faintly red. They tend to roll the leaf/leaves and spin a web on the inside to rest. They have big fangs compared to their body size, and are seldom seen out of their retreats.
A Sac Spider rests in its retreat
Uloboridae: Yet another unique family of spiders, these are called Hackled Orb-weavers. Now these are also confused with the Orb-weavers of the family Araneidae, however, these spiders have a distinct, random hackled web around the center of the web. This hackled structure is different compared to the Signature Spiders as well as the Cyclosa sp. discussed in the Araneidae family.

A very small Hackled Orb weaver blends well into the thickets
These spiders are not special because they build a hackled orb web. It is because of something rather surprising… these spiders are the only spiders that are non-venomous! They, however have a special web-spinning apparatus which produces this hackled web, that aides them to capture the prey more efficiently, without the use of venom.
Zeiss sp. Hackled Orb-weaver showing the typically "hackled" web at the center,
note the difference between the shape of this stabilimenta
and that of Cyclosa sp. and Argiope sp. from Araneidae
These spider are very small, and may appear to be an Araneidae belonging orb-weaver, however, it has a rather distinct, long and large first pair of appendages which is the key for its identification.

Seeing them is tough, thanks to their small webs, and even smaller sizes, but once you see and recognize them, you won’t forget them ever. These spiders remain well camouflaged and tend to prefer dark places.

Nephilidae: The Golden Orb Weavers or Giant Wood Spiders that rein the forests around Mumbai come from this small spider family, Nephilidae. These spiders are orb-weavers and were formerly placed in Tetragnathidae and Araneidae.
A Nephila sp. seen at Yeoor Hills. Come winter and the forests will be filled with these giant orb-webs
These spiders make largest orb-webs in the world, and have the strongest webs than any other spider species. They are abundant during post-monsoon months, and throughout the dry season. They tend to disappear during monsoon and many young spiderlings are seen as monsoon starts waning.

Theridiidae: This is another common family seen around Mumbai, and are sometimes referred to as Cob-web spiders. Their webs are dense, appear messy and are often regarded dirty. But these webs are more like a maze, and only the owners of this maze never get tangled in it. The web is built in three dimensions, and often contains several layers of thin sheets of webs.
A Cob-web Spider
These spiders are commonly seen in and around suburbs, and more so in abandoned houses. The spiders are not big, and prefer dark corners.
Theridiid spiders are also seen inside homes
There is no easy way to distinguish them from others, but this might be of some use if you were to be locked in a room full of Theridiidae spiders.

Philodromidae: Commonly called Running Crab Spiders, they are thought to superficially resemble Thomisidae, but look more like Pisauridae spiders to an untrained eye. Easiest way to distinguish these spiders from the above mentioned families is their rather flattened shape, the eye pattern which is similar to Thomisidae, and the second pair of legs that are longer than the rest.

Tibellus sp. (elongatus?) at SGNP
They are usually seen in grasses and on leaf surfaces closer to the ground. I had overlooked this one as a Pisaurid spider, but only after some close inspection can we see the difference.


These are but the families I have been coming across on most nature trails. I am sure there are other families, perhaps more common than the ones mentioned here. There are some spider families that are very confusing, even to the scientists, that it becomes hard to identify a spider completely.
A Cyrtophora sp. rests in its web and a Horse Fly
- a parasitic fly lies dead and wrapped in spidersilk
The spider families of Mumbai are diverse, in their habitats, their behaviors and even in the names. Understanding them will not only help us know our neighbors that dwell in the corners well, but also broaden our sense of sharing a tiny space with such creatures. We must not forget that they lived here long before we did, and it is their right to live wherever they wish. Keeping houses clean is not bad, but killing the ones that live in the natural habitat – in your backyard, for instance, must be discouraged.
Lynx Spider (Oxyopidae) feeds on a Leafhopper (famly Cicadellidae) a pest on many plants (here, on Teak)
Other Families of Spiders

I did not include Theraphosidae in this ‘commonly’ occurring families of spiders since, although common where they are seen (SGNP, Matheran), they are not as abundant and are not seen regularly on nature trails.
A Theraphosid spider seen at Matheran
Another rare or uncommon family is Deinopidae, a unique family where the spiders have mastered the art of “web-casting” the prey. I have seen only one in SGNP, Deinopis sp., it is a very well camouflaged, small spider, hence perhaps not seen so commonly, and can be confused for Tetragnathidae (if seen without its web).
Deinopis sp. seen at SGNP: the resemblance is similar to Tetragnatha sp.
Other families that might be common, but confusing to identify are Dictynidae – which can be confused with Gnaphosidae and Theridiidae, Hahniidae – perhaps confused with Gnaphosidae, Linyphiidae can be confused with Theridiidae, Ctenidae can be confused with Lycosidae and Pisauridae, or even Theraphosidae, Coriniidae – confused with Gnaphosidae or Clubionidae, even the common families can be difficult to distinguish merely on their morphology, such as Araneidae from Tetragnathidae, or Theridiidae from Linyphiidae, or Corinnidae and Zodariidae with Gnaphosidae and Clubionidae, and so on.
A Corinnidae spider, Castianeira zetes, seemingly mimicking Camponotus sp. of Ants
Identifying spiders is not an easy task. It is a task that requires patience and the skills of dissection. Only by observing a spider under a microscope can one be certain of its specific name, and sometimes just the family. Arachnologists are still baffled by the sheer number of spiders all across the world, and are yet struggling to classify them, often coming out with rather surprising results, and often new families. I welcome suggestions and critiques in this little effort of calling these spiders ‘common’, and appreciate any recommendations and corrections to further better my understanding.

Another interesting spider family is Eresidae - where there are several species that are "social", in the sense, these spiders build a vast web on trees, by webbing together live and dead leaves. This spider colony is commonly seen during monsoon and post-monsoon, and really resemble a haphazard, messy tangle of webs and leaves. I do not have a picture of these spiders and their webs, but it is easy to identify by it's appearance of a tangled web of silk and leaves - distinct from the nests of the Weaver Ants.

As a nature enthusiast, this is just a summary of the vast spider diversity of Mumbai, so significant to the ecosystems and its survival, that every spider killed is a mosquito freed!

Araneae: Largest order under Arachnidae, housing all the spiders.
Spinnerets: A silk spinning organ located at the tip of the abdomen.
Stabilimenta: A type of silk that is fuzzy and hackled, containing many tiny silk strands.

Online Resources:

Spider India Yahoo Group
Spiders of Central India
South Indian Spiders

Also see:
List of Spiders of India

This study can be downloaded below: