How to Find Purse-webs
THIS IS A "NO-HARM" PROJECT
PLEASE DO NOT REMOVE or MOVE SPIDERS or DISTURB HABITATS
Find the web but don't disturb the spider or its habitat.
There are two steps to finding purse-webs
1. Go outside (Eastern half of North America only, sorry).
2. Look for webs.
First - GO OUTSIDE.
Purse-web spiders are not found by staying indoors.* Go to a park, garden, forest, even around the plants in your own yard, anywhere with wild-ish plants and soil - and bugs to eat! Purse-webs can be found deep in the woods, along bushes bordering surburban sidewalks, in untended brush surrounding parking lots, and around house foundations and personal gardens. Few people have even looked for these spiders in the U.S. and we don't know all the types of places - or best places - to look. You can start by going outside to visit a place that you know.
* ... or look for them online -- Andy Deans, Curator of Entomology at Penn State University, used Google Street View to spot some A. snetsingeri purse-webs on a fence near the Type locality!
Second - Look for the webs at the base of trees, shrubs and walls.
Look for vertically-oriented webs attached at the base of trees and shrubs, along rock and cement walls, and on fences and fence-posts. In hilly terrain the webs are found on the downhill side of trees. Purse-webs may also be found laying horizontally near the ground in grass and thatch, or even reaching diagonally through complex vegetation, but those are harder to see. Vertical webs are the easiest to notice and every Atypid in the U.S. is known to make them. Purse-webs can persist in the same location for many years and are quite durable.
Purse-webs are camouflaged with bits of dirt, leaves and moss to blend in and match their suroundings. They do that very well indeed! But with a little experience you can learn to spot webs at the base of trees from 30 ft away and amaze your friends. If you are not sure if something is a web or not, gently touch it with a blade of grass to see if it 'gives' - the purse-web is collapsible and not rigid like a plant stem.
Detect different species?
At this time there is no way to distinguish between the purse-webs of different Atypid species. When you report the presence of any purse-web you are helping to find that answer. First we find out where they are, then we investigate to determine species present and learn their life histories.
Third - Look for gossamer in the spring.
"Third, I thought there were only two steps?" Well, this isn't actually searching for purse-webs, but it works. In the spring if you see lots of silk spread over vegetation and also spot spiderlings, check to see if they look like little tarantulas. If so, look around nearby for purse-webs.
The transient silk from a mass of dispersing spiderlings can be easier to see than a hidden purse-web. At Tyler Arboretum the annual emergence event begins sometime in March or April every year, depending on weather, and can last for a few weeks of uneven spiderling activity, mostly in the morning hours. The visual gossamer effect they produce is sometimes dramatic and in other years the silk is hardly visible, and in either case it disappears over a few days. It's worth taking a closer look if you happen to notice silk tents or sheets on Spring vegetation.