Molecular insights into the phylogenetic structure of the spider genus Theridion (Araneae, Theridiidae) and the origin of the Hawaiian Theridion-like fauna


  • Mquel A. Arnedo,

  • Ingi Agnarsson,

  • Rosemary G. Gillespie

  • doi:10.1111/j.1463-6409.2007.00280.x

Miquel A. Arnedo, Division of Insect Biology, ESPM, 137 Mulford Hall, University of California-Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-3114, USA. Current Address: Departament de Biologia Animal, Universitat de Barcelona. Avinguda Diagonal 645, 08028, Barcelona, Spain. E-mail:

Ingi Agnarsson, Systematic Biology-Entomology, E-530, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA. E-mail:

Rosemary G. Gillespie, Division of Insect Biology, ESPM, 137 Mulford Hall, University of California-Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-3114, USA. E-mail:


The Hawaiian happy face spider (Theridion grallator Simon, 1900), named for a remarkable abdominal colour pattern resembling a smiling face, has served as a model organism for understanding the generation of genetic diversity. Theridion grallator is one of 11 endemic Hawaiian species of the genus reported to date. Asserting the origin of island endemics informs on the evolutionary context of diversification, and how diversity has arisen on the islands. Studies on the genus Theridion in Hawaii, as elsewhere, have long been hampered by its large size (> 600 species) and poor definition. Here we report results of phylogenetic analyses based on DNA sequences of five genes conducted on five diverse species of Hawaiian Theridion, along with the most intensive sampling of Theridiinae analysed to date. Results indicate that the Hawaiian Islands were colonised by two independent Theridiinae lineages, one of which originated in the Americas. Both lineages have undergone local diversification in the archipelago and have convergently evolved similar bizarre morphs. Our findings confirm para- or polyphyletic status of the largest Theridiinae genera: Theridion, Achaearanea and Chrysso. Convergent simplification of the palpal organ has occurred in the Hawaiian Islands and in two continental lineages. The results confirm the convergent evolution of social behaviour and web structure, both already documented within the Theridiidae. Greater understanding of phylogenetic relationships within the Theridiinae is key to understanding of behavioural and morphological evolution in this highly diverse group.