When I sit down and disappear into the grass, getting eye-level with a variety of creatures who live there, I get excited when I spot a jumping spider, my favorite of all the spiders. Recognizable by the two large middle front eyes, these spiders appear almost child-like in what I can only describe as curiosity.
When I see one it almost always sees me too (because wow, they have good vision) and will quickly dash behind a leaf or plant stem, oblivious that their legs might be hanging out on the sides and that they haven’t actually disappeared. I take this as my cue to quickly get my camera and tripod situated, knowing from experience that the chances are high he will wait a few minutes, and then, very slowly, turn and peek around the obstacle, to see if I am still there. Usually what I will see as he is looking back my way are his four front eyes, hairy pedipalps and often iridescent fangs. Like a child hiding behind the couch, this action makes me smile. Sometimes I may move my hand close to him, hoping he will leap onto it so I can bring him closer for a better look. Surely realizing I am WAY too big to eat, the spider scurries around, keeping me in view with his big eyes. I don’t worry that he will bite me–this is rare for spiders to do despite popular belief to the contrary. After I have watched him long enough and gotten my share of pictures, I will set him back where I got him and go on my merry way.
Here are some interesting things you may not know about jumping spiders:
- Like all spiders, jumping spiders have two body parts–one called a cephalothorax, where 4 pairs of legs are attached, and the other an abdomen. They also have a pair of what looks like mini legs–called pedipalps. These grab prey, maneuver it into the mouth and in males, become sexual organs when mating. Like other spiders, they produce silk and have 8 eyes, four in front and two tiny eyes on each side of their cephalothorax.
- Many spiders are hard to identify without a microscope, but all jumping spiders have two big eyes set between two smaller eyes in the front of their bodies. These eyes are often iridescent, especially colorful when the sunlight hits them just right.
- The latin name of jumping spiders is Salticidae, from the latin word, Salto, which means to dance. This is a great name for them as they partake in a funny and sometimes bizarre dance before mating. The males, who are generally more brightly colored than the females, will wave their legs, move their pedipalps and sometimes shift from side to side. A watching female, if interested, may dance back, seemingly to communicate that she likes his moves and wants to see more! There’s a FABULOUS video of an amazingly colorful jumping spider that lives in Australia doing this–Click HERE to see. It is the most colorful spider I have ever seen!
- Jumping spiders are small in comparison to some other kinds of spiders, just 3-17mm in length.
- Despite their small size, they are capable of bringing down much larger prey. They do not build a web to catch their prey, instead they are the tigers of the invertebrate world. Active during the day, they stalk and then pounce on creatures like butterflies, crickets, grasshoppers, flies, and other insects, quickly injecting them with a fast-acting venom. Of course, just in case, they secure a safety line of silk before jumping so they can easily return to safely should the need arise. Sometimes called a dragline, this is typical of spiders.
- Jumping spiders are the largest family of spiders, with more than 5,000 species. Scientists have named 50,000 different kinds of spiders, though they believe this is only about 1/10th of all those that exist.
- Like other spiders and insects, jumping spiders grow by molting, or shedding their skin. Most jumping spiders will molt 5 or 6 times before becoming adults.
- Some jumping spiders are capable of jumping 50 times their height! This is amazing considering that they do not have extra long legs like a frog or cricket. Scientists have learned that they accomplish these big leaps by creating a sudden change in blood (called hemolymph in insects and spiders) pressure. When they want to jump, they contract muscles in the upper and lower plates of their cephalothorax, thus decreasing volume of blood in that region and instantly pumping a surge of blood to their legs. This cause them to spring forward suddenly.
- Jumping spiders see in color and have acute eyesight. With their 8 eyes in the front and on the side of their cephalothorax, they can see well in most directions. It is hard to sneak up on a jumping spider!
- Jumping spiders do not build webs but do produce silk. They use this to protect their eggs, as draglines and to create silken chambers in which they will sometimes hide during the night.