I recently learned that October 10 marks International Jumping Spider Day, and that day is today! Salticids are easily my favorite group of spiders, and for many reasons other than their cuteness. They’re amazing hunters, stalking their insect prey like a cat stalks a bird. They can calculate distances eerily well, and leap flawlessly from one perch to the next. Jumping spiders are the most numerous group of spiders on the planet, with a couple hundred different species found right here in the American Southwest alone! New species are constantly being described in the planet’s tropical regions, as well. Salticids are known for their flashy colors, courtship rituals, and expressive, forward-facing eyes. There are many more jumping spiders, however, that aren’t so flamboyant — and with their small size, cryptic coloration, and poorly-understood behavior, they blend seamlessly into their environments.
It’s hard to say how many different species of jumping spiders I’ve seen in and around Tucson. Sub-adults of various Phidippus sp., for example, look alarmingly alike, as do different sexes of the same species. Still, Salticids are the spiders I see the most, found everywhere from inside the house to the crossvine in the backyard, and from the trunks of saguaros to the boughs of desert broom.
Without further ado, here are some jumping spiders I’ve spotted in the last month or so!
One species of Phidippus I’ve seen a lot of lately is P. octopunctatus. In early autumn, females make very conspicuous egg sacs in dense foliage, usually a couple feet off the ground. They seem to prefer desert broom but I’ve also seen them build their nests in stands of some sort of aster, as well. I’ve yet to spot any males, but would really love to — they are a striking, velvety black and gray. Females are more nondescript, being entirely gray, but they are big. A gravid female P. octopunctatus is nearly the same size as P. regius or P. audax — considered to be some of the largest jumpers in North America.
At home, I’ve got several captive jumping spiders. The one I’ve had for the longest, a female P. regius I named Stevie, is starting to slow down. She’s had four broods in her time with me — nearly a year — and, because I acquired her as an adult, I really have no idea how old she is.
The other jumper species I keep captive include a male P. carneus, who has molted several times in my care and has reached his adult form; a handsome male P. apacheanus; a female P. tux, whose second brood of spiderlings have hatched and await release; a female P. octopunctatus; a yet-to-be-determined female(?) Phidippus sp.; and a female Paraphidippus aurantius, whose first brood of spiderlings have hatched but have still not left the nest. The most amazing thing about these jumping spiders is how different each of them is! I would hesitate to anthropomorphize and label them as “personalities”, but they really do interact with me, their prey, and their environment in unique ways.
In conclusion, happy Jumping Spider Day! Education and exposure to Salticids, in my opinion, is the key to curbing fear and disgust of spiders. With their fancy colors, amusing antics, and soulful eyes, I like to think of them as tiny, eight-legged cats. What jumping spiders have you seen lately?