Salticidae – The Charismatic Spiders

Jumping spiders! Salticidae is the largest family of spiders, containing approximately 5,500-6,000 species, which accounts for around 13% of all spiders. These species are divided into 600+ genera, are typically small in size and famed for their incredible jumping abilities. Along with their impressive number of species and awesome acrobatics, they also possess some of the best eyes in the invertebrate world. These large forward facing eyes, that allow them to accurately hit their prey or landing site, are up there as some of the best eyes in the invertebrate world. In fact it is thought that these eyes beat our own in terms of range of movement and are also sensitive to polarized light and likely colour too. As well as these incredibly sensitive, large forward facing eyes that judge distances, they also possess smaller eyes that curve round further back on the carapace. These eyes, whilst not as complex, can detect movement, often causing the spider to spin round or jump away. This makes them fantastic to photograph with flash, the first time the camera flashes they will whip round in an instant and stare right down the lens. Hopefully making the second photograph a cracker. On the flip side, they are also incredibly active and dart around with incredible speed, often making them very difficult to photograph.

Whilst known as jumping spiders, they are not the only group of spiders that can jump, with other families such as the wolf spiders (Lycosidae) and others also using the ability to escape predation or just to travel from A to B. However, Salticidae spiders are known for using jumping as a hunting technique and pounce on their prey. They use their third and/or fourth legs for jumping and attach a thin line of silk to their perch as an anchor line before flinging themselves off. Therefore allowing them to pull themselves back up or ease down if they miss their target – like tiny arachnid bungee jumpers. This incredible technique makes them ferocious predators as they tackle their unsuspecting prey.

As well as being top invertebrate predators, they’re also one of the few group of spiders that non-arachnid lovers will admit to being (and please forgive me for using this word) … cute. With their small size, large eyes and often bright colours they are very charismatic spiders. Pair this with the fact that males of some species perform dances when trying to attract a mate, and you get a spider that even arachnophobes find hard to hate. I even have one as the header image of this blog and my twitter! This is a little Phidippus johnsoni (Johnson’s jumping spider) a fantastic species that I was lucky enough to see on my trip to Arizona.

Jumping spider
Phidippus johnsoni – A stunning little jumping spider found in Arizona. Often seen predating on small flies inside very spiky plants.

In Britain and Northern Europe there are approximately 75 salticid species in 43 genera, with much of this family being found in warmer areas of the world. But many of these European species are fairly common, in Britain the zebra jumping spider (Salticus scenicus) is one of the most commonly seen species. These small (5-7mm) black and white stripped spiders can be seen on warm walls, stones and vegetation, darting about in the search for unsuspecting flies and other small invertebrates to pounce on. The males are easily distinguished by their overly large chelicera which are used when sparring with competing males. They are fascinating watch and provide entertaining, if not sometimes frustrating, photography subjects.

Zebra spider, Salticus scenicus 1
Salticus scenicus – Zebra jumping spider found on a nice warm wall in my garden. For microscope pictures of this species see the post ‘microscope madness’.

Thanks for reading! Just a quick post on one of the most fascinating and charismatic spider families. Keep your eyes peeled because as the weather is warming up, these little jumpers can be more readily seen darting across walls or around your garden, being one of the top predators in this incredible macro world.

Sources:
Much of the in this post information came from the book – Collins Field Guide Spiders of Britain and Northern Europe by Michael J. Roberts. If you’re interested in spiders and how to correctly find, catch and identify them, I cannot recommend this book enough. It is fantastic.

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