Thursday, December 24, 2009

Hanging by a Head: The Fabulous Dock Spider

This is a dolomedes fishing spider.  A very happy, about to be well fed, fishing spider who has neatly removed the head of an unfortunate dragonfly.  You may better know this spider as a raft spider, a wharf spider, or (more popularly) as a dock spider. These spiders are amazing creatures... they are able to walk on water (much like a water strider) where they are able to hunt mayflies, aquatic insects and even small fish. They even have the ability to hunt underwater! This particular spider was an excellent dragonfly hunter, as I found him with another unfortunate dragonfly victim the following week.

This was not my first fishing spider find.  That had occured a year before, and was by far my most exciting find.  Ever since we had moved to Ontario, we would often hear people talking about the giant dock spiders they have at their cottage.  Every time I found myself near the water, or at someone's lakeside property, I would eagerly seek out these giant beauties - but never found any!  Finally, while at our friend's cottage on Lake of Bays, I happened upon a female dock spider and her spiderlings.  She was HUGE! Including her leg span, she was about the size of my hand.  The size of my HAND!  I had never seen a spider that big here in Canada!  I was able to get many shots of her, but was never brave enough to get a shot of my hand in the picture to help show proportions.  After that, I started spotting dock spiders all over the place.  On the dock near where I found the female, I found several males, who were all considerably smaller than the female.  This is known as sexual dimorphism. 

A female fishing spider with spiderlings. 

When it comes to identifying spiders, there are several things you can look at to help figure out what you're dealing with. Size, colour, special markings, etc. When it comes to the fishing spider, one of my favourite ways of telling what I have is by looking at the eye pattern of the spider. For the fishing spider, I look for two rows of 4 eyes stacked on each other like little smiles. I have cropped and enlarged two photos to show the pattern. My apologies for the quality, but cropping and enlarging compromises photo quality.

                                                                             Two rows of 4 eyes.  

Here is a link to Bug Guide that takes you a page showing all the different eye patterns of different spiders:

I no longer find it so difficult to find fishing spiders.  There is a little creek that feeds into the lake near my house.  Every summer I am easily able to find dock spiders in the tall grasses that grace the banks of the creek - and then I take plenty of photos to share with family and friends!


  1. wow! it surely has done a neat job of removing the head!!
    Thanks a lot for your comment on my NG gallery. couldn't get to your gallery for some reason but got directed to your blog, which is even better....learning more!
    i have a new found interest in bugs after watching Attenborough's 'life in the undergrowth'...:)

  2. Hi pr! I most likely gave you the wrong gallery number... you can view my gallery at

    Thanks for the visit!