In the land of the blind: Exceptional subterranean speciation of cryptic troglobitic spiders of the genus Tegenaria (Araneae: Agelenidae) in Israel

Shlomi Aharon*, Jesús A. Ballesteros, Guilherme Gainett, Dror Hawlena, Prashant P. Sharma, Efrat Gavish-Regev

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Caves have long been recognized as a window into the mechanisms of diversification and convergent evolution, due to the unique conditions of isolation and life in the dark. These lead to adaptations and reduce dispersal and gene flow, resulting in high levels of speciation and endemism. The Israeli cave arachnofauna remains poorly known, but likely represents a rich assemblage. In a recent survey, we found troglophilic funnel-web spiders of the genus Tegenaria in 26 caves, present mostly at the cave entrance ecological zone. In addition, we identified at least 14 caves inhabited by troglobitic Tegenaria, which are present mostly in the twilight and dark ecological zones. Ten of the caves, located in the north and center of Israel, are inhabited by both troglophilic and troglobitic Tegenaria. These spiders bear superficial phenotypic similarities but differ in the levels of eye reduction and pigmentation. To test whether these taxa constitute separate species, as well as understand their relationships to epigean counterparts, we conducted a broad geographic sampling of cave-dwelling Tegenaria in Israel and Palestine, using morphological and molecular evidence. Counterintuitively, our results show that the troglobitic Tegenaria we studied are distantly related to the troglophilic Tegenaria found at each of the cave entrances we sampled. Moreover, seven new troglobitic species can be identified based on genetic differences, eye reduction level, and features of the female and male genitalia. Our COI analysis suggest that the Israeli troglobitic Tegenaria species are more closely related to eastern-Mediterranean congeners than to the local sympatric troglophile Tegenaria species, suggesting a complex biogeographic history.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number107705
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
StatePublished - Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

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© 2023 Elsevier Inc.


  • Caves
  • Cryptic species
  • Funnel-web spiders
  • Levant
  • Microendemism
  • Troglomorphism


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