Giant Spider Ecology

As part of a Roll20 campaign I’ve been working on, I have written up an ecology for a dungeon full of giant spiders. As part of the same campaign, I sifted through several dozen pictures of actual spiders to make tokens, and that night ever time I closed my eyes I saw a huntsman.

The Ramshorn spiders are parasocial creatures, meaning they recognize one another as friendly and will stick together for strength in numbers but do not directly communicate or coordinate with one another (apparently the main definition of “parasocial interaction” involves people responding to television celebrities as though there were real interaction between them – we’re not talking about that).

The bulk of the nest is taken up by various hunting spiders. These are wolf spiders, tiger spiders, jumping spiders, tarantulas, and spitter spiders, who leave the nest and find food. Tarantulas and tiger spiders are the most critical to the nest ecology, because they tend to kill large animals which they can only consume part of in one sitting. When the tarantula or tiger spider leaves, the nest spiders will descend upon the remains.

Most nest spiders are funnel weavers, well attuned to the vibrations of the webs that they coat the walls of the nest in so that they can feel whenever one of the hunters brings back prey. Funnel weavers are the nest’s defense force, following the same vibrations to intercept any intruders who’ve stumbled into the nest. A likewise critical component to nest defense are the recluse spiders. Hiding deeper in the nest and feeding almost exclusively on tarantula leftovers, recluse spiders would prefer to run when confronted until chased deep in the nest. Here, in the nest’s heart, with nowhere else to run, recluse spiders rally and make a frenzied attack on any intruders, providing a lethal last line of defense near the egg chamber.

Critical to nest construction are the trapdoor spiders, some of the smallest and weakest spiders. They burrow new tunnels for themselves, and when the old ones fill up, other spiders move in to take the trapdoor burrows, pushing them out to make new burrows and so expand the nest. Eventually, tarantulas will lumber along, widening the burrows to make a larger nest, making them both nest spiders (important to nest construction) and hunting spiders (important to feeding nest occupants).

The largest of all the spiders is the huntsman, technically also a hunting spider but deserving a category of its own for how massive it is. The huntsman spider is highly mobile and aggressive, giving it a punishing metabolism that makes it difficult for it to sustain itself. It does not tend to bring much food in, because most of its prey is much smaller than the huntsman, even full grown bucks, which means the huntsman usually eats them entirely in one sitting. The primary contribution of the huntsman is egg defense. A huntsman female will claim the largest tarantula nest for itself and its eggs. The other spiders will lay their eggs in the same chamber to benefit from the huntsman female’s protection. When giant spider nests self-destruct, it is often because a huntsman has run out of food and begun devouring the smaller spiders instead.

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