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The embryonic development of the central American wandering spider Cupiennius salei

Carsten Wolff1 and Maarten Hilbrant23

Author Affiliations

1 Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Institut für Biologie/Vergleichende Zoologie Philippstraße 13, 10115 Berlin, Germany

2 Universität zu Köln Institut für Genetik, Zülpicher Straße 47a, 50674 Köln, Germany

3 Oxford Brookes University Headington Campus Gipsy Lane, Oxford OX3 0BP, UK

Frontiers in Zoology 2011, 8:15  doi:10.1186/1742-9994-8-15

Published: 14 June 2011



The spider Cupiennius salei (Keyserling 1877) has become an important study organism in evolutionary and developmental biology. However, the available staging system for its embryonic development is difficult to apply to modern studies, with strong bias towards the earliest developmental stages. Furthermore, important embryonic events are poorly understood. We address these problems, providing a new description of the embryonic development of C. salei. The paper also discusses various observations that will improve our understanding of spider development.


Conspicuous developmental events were used to define numbered stages 1 to 21. Stages 1 to 9 follow the existing staging system for the spider Achaearanea tepidariorum, and stages 10 to 21 provide a high-resolution description of later development. Live-embryo imaging shows cell movements during the earliest formation of embryonic tissue in C. salei. The imaging procedure also elucidates the encircling border between the cell-dense embryo hemisphere and the hemisphere with much lower cell density (a structure termed 'equator' in earlier studies). This border results from subsurface migration of primordial mesendodermal cells from their invagination site at the blastopore. Furthermore, our detailed successive sequence shows: 1) early differentiation of the precheliceral neuroectoderm; 2) the morphogenetic process of inversion and 3) initial invaginations of the opisthosomal epithelium for the respiratory system.


Our improved staging system of development in C. salei development should be of considerable value to future comparative studies of animal development. A dense germ disc is not evident during development in C. salei, but we show that the gastrulation process is similar to that in spider species that do have a dense germ disc. In the opisthosoma, the order of appearance of precursor epithelial invaginations provides evidence for the non-homology of the tracheal and book lung respiratory systems.