Invertebrate Systematics Invertebrate Systematics Society
Systematics, phylogeny and biogeography

Species status and conservation issues of New Zealand’s endemic Latrodectus spider species (Araneae : Theridiidae)

Cor J. Vink A F , Phil J. Sirvid B , Jagoba Malumbres-Olarte C , James W. Griffiths D , Pierre Paquin E and Adrian M. Paterson C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Biosecurity Group, AgResearch, Lincoln Science Centre, Private Bag 4749, Christchurch 8140, New Zealand.

B Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, PO Box 467, Wellington 6140, New Zealand.

C Bio-Protection and Ecology Division, PO Box 84, Lincoln University, Lincoln 7647, New Zealand.

D Department of Conservation, Wellington Conservancy, PO Box 5086, Wellington 6145, New Zealand.

E Cave and Endangered Invertebrate Research Laboratory, SWCA Environmental Consultants, 4407 Monterey Oaks Boulevard, Building 1, Suite 110, Austin, TX 78749, USA.

F Corresponding author. Email:

Invertebrate Systematics 22(6) 589-604
Submitted: 29 July 2008  Accepted: 21 November 2008   Published: 22 December 2008


New Zealand has two endemic widow spiders, Latrodectus katipo Powell, 1871 and L. atritus Urquhart, 1890. Both species face many conservation threats and are actively managed. The species status of the Latrodectus spiders of New Zealand was assessed using molecular (COI, ITS1, ITS2) and morphological methods and with cross-breeding experiments. Latrodectus katipo and L. atritus were not found to be reciprocally monophyletic for any of the gene regions or morphological traits. Other than colour, which is variable, there were no morphological characters that separated the two species, which cross-bred in the laboratory and produced fertile eggsacs. Colour variation is clinal over latitude and correlates significantly with mean annual temperature. We conclude that L. atritus is a junior synonym of L. katipo. An example of introgression from the Australian species L. hasseltii Thorell, 1870 was also detected and its conservation implications are discussed.

Additional keywords: conservation genetics, cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI), DNA, internal transcribed spacer regions (ITS), intraspecific variation, Latrodectus atritus, Latrodectus hasselti, Latrodectus hasseltii, Latrodectus katipo, phylogenetics, taxonomy.


We are grateful to Nadine Dupérré for her exquisite illustrations in Figure 3, insightful observations on the genitalic structures and for providing information on Castianeira descripta. Thanks to Marshal Hedin for the use of his laboratory at San Diego State University, where a large amount of the molecular work was done. Leonor Guardia Claps (La Facultad de Ciencias Naturales e Instituto Miguel Lillo, Universidad Nacional de Tucumán), Mark Harvey (Western Australian Museum), Gonzalo Giribet and Laura Liebensperger (Harvard University) and library staff at MONZ provided copies of key papers. We thank John Early and Rosemary Gilbert (AMNZ) and John Marris (LUNZ) for the loan of specimens and Ricardo Palma (MONZ) for nomenclatorial advice. For providing important specimens we thank Volker Framenau (Western Australian Museum), John Early (AMNZ), Carol Muir (MAF Biosecurity New Zealand), Alison Evans, Warren Chinn and Dave Anderson (DoC, Canterbury Conservancy), DoC staff at the Wanganui Conservancy, Brendon Christensen and Marion Sutton (DoC, Bay of Plenty Conservancy), Sam Brown (Lincoln University), Robert Raven (Queensland Museum), Craig Phillips (AgR) and David Hirst (South Australian Museum). Thanks to Simon Pollard (CMNZ) for providing access to Urquhart’s type specimens. Virtual Climate Station data was supplied by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, New Zealand ( and John Kean (AgR) provided invaluable assistance in retrieving the necessary data. Thanks to Jeremy Miller (California Academy of Sciences) for helpful comments that greatly improved an earlier version of the manuscript and for providing information from his unpublished worldwide Latrodectus revision. Three anonymous referees made helpful suggestions for improving the manuscript. This research was partially funded by the New Zealand Department of Conservation Taxonomic Units Fund (investigation number 3771).


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