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Desis martensi (L. Koch, 1872)

Desis martensi, commonly known as the reef spider or marine spider, is a true marine spider that can be found along the intertidal zones of Singapore. It was first described by Dr. Ludwig Carl Christian Koch in 1872. 1

Figure 1: Desis martensi specimens observed on St John's Island in Singapore.

Photo credit: Kieron Gabriel Ng.


Hairy, pink etc

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The species is named after German marine zoologist Dr Eduard von Martens, who discovered and collected the species in Singapore in 1861. It was then described by German entomologist and arachnologist Dr. Ludwig Carl Christian Koch in 1872. 3

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  • NParks

The missing 'i' ?


Desis martensi can be found in the inter-tidal zone, in habitats such as rocky shores or coral reefs, making their nests in groups inside hollow corals or rocks. During low tide, they are often found scurrying around the surface of corals or rocks, or scuttling across the water surface. They retreat back into their nests during high tide.3 Like all spiders, Desis martensi also possesses spinnerets and is able to spin webs. However, rather than for prey capture, Desis martensi utilize their webs to line the inside and outside of their nests in corals or rocks. 3 Furthermore, although Desis martensi is found in the intertidal habitat, and is a true marine spider, it does not have the ability to respire through seawater like most other aquatic arthropods do. Thus it relies on creating air pockets in its nests with webbing in order to survive high tide.3 4

- old paper

Figure 4: Video of active Desis martensi specimens observed on St John's Island in Singapore.

Video credit: Kieron Gabriel Ng.


Desis martensi is native to Singapore. However, it has been found recently along some coastlines in indonesian archipelago.

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Google maps of sightings



Desis martensi has not yet been evaluated by the IUCN red list.

However, it is listed as 'Vulnerable' in the Singapore Red Data Book 2008. 5


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Feeding Habits

Desis martensi have been observed to consume small marine invertebrates the are abundant across the intertidal zone, such as sea slaters or shrimp. It has also been observed venturing onto the shore to hunt prey such as crickets.  

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On top of solid substrate, moves like normal spider

On the water it moves differently (hair) 


Desis martensi spin waterproof silk cocoons and seal their eggs inside them.

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How to differentiate this species from the rest

very hairy

Aka use species concepts

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Type Information

The type specimen was collected from Singapore; on coral reefs surrounding the land mass that is now known as Sentosa.6


Desis martensi is situated in the family Desidae (Walckenaer, 1837).7 Recently, Wheeler et al., 2017 found that the genus Desis was quite distinct, and was the most divergent, from the other genera in the family Desidae (e.g. compared to sister groups Barahna and Poaka). 8 The family Desidae is also one of the more broadly circumscribed and less well supported spider families despite years of effort and study by scientists.8


Ref Notes
1 Koch, L. (1872). Desis martensi. In Die Arachn(pp. 347). Austral.
2 Davison, G. W. H., Ng, P. K. L. & Ho, H. C. (2008). The Singapore Red Data Book (2nd Edition). Singapore: Nature Society (Singapore). 285pp
3 Pocock, R. I. (1833). On the Marine Spiders of the Genus Desis with Description of a new Species. In Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London(pp. 98-106). London: London Academic Press. [ a b c d ]
4 Tan, R. (2016). Marine Spider. Retrieved November 15, 2018, from
5 Davison, G. W. H., Ng, P. K. L. & Ho, H. C. (2008). The Singapore Red Data Book (2nd Edition). Singapore: Nature Society (Singapore). 285pp
6 Nparks Flora & Fauna Web. (2013). Desis martensi L. Koch, 1872. Retrieved November 15, 2018, from
7 Walckenaer, C. A. (1837). Histoire naturelle des insectes. Aptères. Paris 1, 1-682.
8 Wheeler, W. C., Coddington, J. A., Crowley, L. M., Dimitrov, D., Goloboff, P. A., Griswold, C. E., Hormiga, G., Prendini, L., Ramírez, M. J., Sierwald, P., Almeida-Silva, L. M., Álvarez-Padilla, F., Arnedo, M. A., Benavides, L. R., Benjamin, S. P., Bond, J. E., Grismado, C. J., Hasan, E., Hedin, M., Izquierdo, M. A., Labarque, F. M., Ledford, J., Lopardo, L., Maddison, W. P., Miller, J. A., Piacentini, L. N., Platnick, N. I., Polotow, D., Silva-Dávila, D., Scharff, N., Szűts, T., Ubick, D., Vink, C., Wood, H. M. & Zhang, J. X. (2017). The spider tree of life: phylogeny of Araneae based on target-gene analyses from an extensive taxon sampling. Cladistics 33(6): 576-616. doi:10.1111/cla.12182 [ a b ]

Figure 2: Desis martensi specimen observed on a coral on Lazarus Island. Photo credits: Ria Tan. Permission Granted

Figure 3: Desis martensi specimen observed on a seagrass bed on St John's Island. Photo credits: Ria Tan. Permission Granted

Figure 4: Desis martensi specimen eating a shrimp on Kusu Island. Photo credits: Ria Tan. Permission Granted

Figure 5: Desis martensi specimen eating a sea slater in Sentosa (Tanjung Rimau). Photo credits: Ria Tan. Permission Granted

Figure 6: Desis martensi specimen eating a cricket on Kusu Island. Photo credits: Ria Tan. Permission Granted

Figure 7: Desis martensi skating across the surface of the water at Cyrene reef. Photo credits: Ria Tan. Permission Granted

This page was authored by Ng Weng Loong Kieron Gabriel (
Last curated on 15th November 2018

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