Review: Biology of Spiders by Rainer F. Foelix


First published in 1979, this was the first textbook on spiders since 1930.  Over 200 illustrations are included as well as an extensive reference section. The only modern textbook available on the subject, this will prove an invaluable resource for professionals, students, and researchers in zoology, entomology, ecology and physiology.

Biology of Spiders by Rainer F. Foelix.  Harvard Universate Press, 1982.  Originally published in Germany in 1979.  306 pages.  Black & white photos and illustrations. 

I have mention before in this blog that I love wildlife.  From the air to the ocean and everything in between.   I also enjoy the tiny little guys from the insect (ok, not gnats, flies, or mosquitos because they are just annoying AF.) and arachnid worlds.  When I’m out in nature, I’m not just observing the squirrels and the birds, but getting up close to ants, beetles, and of course… spiders! 

I love to get as close as I can to the spider without disturbing anything, and just look them over.  Trying to ID them, and taking note of things like their markings, male or female, the web shape, their position, etc.  My backyard deck has been a haven for four different types of spiders for years.  I watch them all the time.  I’ve had so much fun observing their behaviors and coming up with theories about the whats and the whys of how they act.   I’ve learned a lot from just being able to watch them for almost 10 years.

If you thought this book was about the biology of spiders, congratulations! You are correct!  Mr. Foelix goes in to great detail about the anatomy of spiders.  You learn about all the different parts of the body, on the inside and the outside.  You learn about everything from their lungs to their nervous system.  For some unknown reason, the brain is pretty much glossed over.  I’m not sure why, exactly? Perhaps there wasn’t that much information about the spider brain at the time of this editions publication.


Chapters 2 through 4 – Functional Anatomy, Metabolism, Neurobiology- were a little bit difficult for me to get through.  They read like a biology text book for college.  I was not a science major and some of this was written way too formal.  Like, a lot of big science words that I had no clue what they meant because there was no explanation.  This book was marked as a great book for people who just liked spiders, but it felt like you also had to have a degree in biology in order to understand some of it.  Most of the time I could work around the words I didn’t know and still get the gist of what was being said, but at the same time, I feel like some of the information was over my head.  I appreciate the details, but I wasn’t looking for something super hardcore biology.  You know that scene in Beetlejuice where they are trying to read The Handbook for the Recently Deceased, but they look confused and can’t understand it.  Then one of them says “This book reads like stereo instructions…”  That’s…. kinda…. how I felt.  Even though I didn’t understand all of it, I still learned a lot of very interesting things about the anatomy of spiders.

From chapter 5 and on, the book really picked up.  Or, it was just more of what I was looking for in the book.  Spider webs, Locomotion & Prey Capture, Reproduction, Development, Ecology and Phylogeny & Systematics.  These chapters were really good!  They had less of the big biology terms and dealt more with behaviors and habits.  Don’t get me wrong, the first few chapters were good as well, but I have never been very good with the inner body biology stuff.  Cells, microscopes, tissues, glands, and so on… I have always had a hard time figuring that stuff out.  But behavior, psychology and evolution are a few of the sciences I am good at.  Also, a lot of the questions I had about spiders came from this section of the book.  It was really fascinating learning about how spiders build their webs, or how some spiders take care of their young.  I really learned a lot of good stuff and just about all my questions were answered.  I would have liked to have known a little bit more about their lifespan and web construction of spiders that aren’t  orb web spiders (funnel spiders for example) though.


There were plenty of pictures to look at.  You had microscopic things like cell tissue and organs.  There were extreme close up shots of spiders so you could see details on certain parts of their bodies, such as their eyes or joints.  They even had photos of embryos and inner cocoon shots of the larva stage (I didn’t even know they HAD a larva stage! I thought they always just looked like spiders, but, you know… tiny >.> ).  And there were plenty of shots of spiders doing things, like caring for their young or hunting.  While I did enjoy seeing the photos, some times it was a little bit hard to see them clearly because they were old black and white shots and sometimes things just blended in too much with backgrounds or surrounding items.  There were also numerous illustrations.  Mostly the illustrations showed us how the body worked.  Things like organ placement or leg movement.  All the illustrations were very clear and well drawn.  Both the photos and the illustrations all had very helpful captions that explained, sometimes in great detail, about what you were looking at.


Biology of Spiders is an extremely detailed book about spiders. There is a lot we still don’t know about spiders, but this is the most informative book I have been able to find on the subject.  My copy came out in 1982 (translated from the 1979 German edition), but I want to point out that this book has had at least 2 expanded editions, once in the 90’s and once in 2014.  Each time close to a 100 new pages of brand new spider info was added, as well as several corrections on old or outdated info.  At some point, I wouldn’t mind tracking down the a copy of the newest expanded edition and see what all has been changed or added.

Picture was not in the book, but it is a beautiful spider I am obsessed with and wanted to include in the post. 😀

This was a very fascinating book for a spider fan.  While some of the chapters felt more like a text book lecture, there was a lot to learn from Biology of Spiders.  Very detailed and well researched, this is one of the most informative books I’ve ever seen on the subject of spiders.  There were a lot of amazing photographs and clear illustrations to show you what the book was talking about.  While not all my questions were answered, this was a great book to read and I really enjoyed learning more about my little spider friends.  🙂



One thought on “Review: Biology of Spiders by Rainer F. Foelix

  1. I have a strong phobia for spiders but find them strangely fascinating too. Makes me think reading about them would help with some of the fears. Living in the south, there are so many different species and they are everywhere!

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