There’s a reason I don’t have many blogs about the family Salticidae (salt-TISS-id-ee) AKA jumping spiders. These active, fuzzy spiders are SO mobile that I’ve always felt badly about keeping them cooped up inside a container. Plus, they have more anthropomorphic qualities than other spiders with those big eyes looking at me as they pace their containers as if asking, “Why? Why have you trapped me?” followed by, “I’m gonna figure out how to get out!” which they do. I currently have an escapee who squeezed through the small slit in the lid of the container. This is the second time. I caught him the first time travelling up the containers of his neighbors and thought I made sure that lid was on straight enough. I haven’t seen him since last week, but he may pop up on the window sill if the sun ever comes out again in Pittsburgh…
Salticids are a family of completely harmless spiders with 316 species, which is A LOT for a spider family. There is fantastic diversity among jumping spiders, but in general, they all have stout bodies and square-shaped heads, are happy in the sun, and usually on the move instead of waiting in a web. They can leap, scoot backwards, turn on a dime to face an encounter, and completely abort mission by jumping off a ledge (with a dragline “safety rope”, of course). They are some of the most colorful spiders and dare I say the cutest? Jumping spiders seem to be high on the favorites list in the spider world. Of all the 120 spider families, the jumpers are the ones who prompt words like “awwww” from the mouths of people who don’t even like spiders. Take Lucas, the Spider, for example. Lucas is an animated, fuzzy, curious, blinking spider with a child’s voice which makes it difficult for people to describe spiders as “disgusting” and “horrific”!
I had the awesome opportunity to meet Sebastian Echeverri, a PhD student in the Richards-Zawacki Lab at the University of Pittsburgh. Sebastian studies animal eyes and how they use color, shape, and movement to communicate with each other. His favorite subjects are jumping spiders in the Habronattus genus. In his free time, Sebastian is also an educator and writer having written articles for the Philly Inquirer and http://Evobites.com. You can check out Sebastian’s website here: https://www.spiderdaynightlive.com/. I met Sebastian through my volunteer work at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Spider people love to meet other spider people and hours were spent talking about how amazingly awesome these creatures are! It probably goes without saying that Sebastian has a spider collection. Many are tarantulas, but, of course, he keeps jumping spiders! I asked if he experiences the same guilt I feel when I keep jumpers as pets. He agreed! For keeping the larger Salticids, he suggested a ten gallon tank sized enclosure which will offer more variety and space for these active day trippers. He also suggested full spectrum light from LED bulbs, not fluorescent, to keep the spiders happy in their habitat.
So what does Sebastian like most about working with jumping spiders? “More than most spiders, jumpers are curious! You can really see that if you spend time with them. Since both humans and jumping spiders are very visual animals, it’s easy to get a sense of what a jumper is thinking about by watching them look around and explore. That’s a connection that is much harder to have with most spiders (though not impossible).”
Speaking of visual, let’s talk about those peepers! Jumping spiders seem to be smarter than the average spider (studies have highlighted the cognitive ability of the Portia genus, see reference below) due to their excellent vision. All jumping spiders have eight eyes with huge anterior median eyes that can focus an image like a telephoto lens. They can see details like cracks and holes to hide or go through and escape containers. Jumping spiders can move the retinas of their anterior median eyes almost like we can move our eyes without moving our heads. Check out the nearly translucent Magnolia jumper’s eyes in this video! They can see color, too, which is super important for courtship. Like birds, the male jumping spiders are the colorful ones while the females are cryptically colored. Male jumpers can also sport crazy crowns, elongated jaws, or extra long front legs all to get the female’s attention. The aptly named peacock jumping spiders of Australia take the cake in elaborate courtship auditions. Fun video tag here.
Back to Western, PA – The Bold Jumper, Phidippus audax, is one of our largest jumping spiders found around Pittsburgh. Maxing out at almost an inch head to butt, the Bold Jumper is mostly black with three white spots on its back. The chelicerae (basal part of the fangs) are an iridescent green. They don’t have courtship dances that are as serious as the Australian peacock jumpers, but it’s still highly visual with leg waving and frontal approaches. Check out this video of a male and female bold jumper who meet on opposite sides of a jar!
Bold jumpers are curious and will hop right onto your hand to check you out if you let them. One day, when I was a kid, a bold jumper visited my front porch. The family dog and I were hanging out there in the sunshine when a sizable female Phidippus audax appeared. When the spider passed by the dog, who was a medium-sized Shepherd mix, the dog sniffed at the spider. The spider took a few steps back and then jumped on and off the dog’s nose. The dog was like, “What the heck?” and sniffed at the spider again! The spider did the same thing and I couldn’t stop laughing when the dog, snorting, actually got up and left the spider to continue its path.
There is another large jumping spider found around Western PA – Platycryptus undatus (no official common name, sorry). These jumpers have a flattish body, are fuzzy gray, and look like they’re sporting a brown mustache. Personality wise, they are not as curious or bold as P. audax, but they are pretty cool to hang out with. I photographed a friendly Platycryptus undatus posing on the illustration page by Steve Buchanan from Common Spiders of North America by Richard Bradley. You will have a hard time telling which is the real deal!
Another common jumper around Pittsburgh is the zebra jumper with one of the more fun scientific names to say: Salticus scenicus. They are small spiders, up to five millimeters, tops. I often find them cruising along vertical brick walls. They are fast, bouncy, and not interested in people (or any large, lurking shape for that matter), so they don’t hang around long if they see you.
I could feature so many more jumpers, but that would be a novel. Part of the fun is to leave the reader curious to discover something they’ve never noticed before! Spring and summer are the best times to see jumping spiders in Western PA. In winter, they hide as immature adults in silken tents nestled in cracks and crevices. Some of the prettiest Salticids can look like gemstones.
Here is a very small gallery showing the diversity among jumpers:
To further Salticidae grandeur, they are, as you would imagine by their name, remarkable jumpers. They can calculate distance to jump on prey from a vertical, horizontal, or upside down position. They can jump around from the top of a leaf to the underside of the same leaf using their dragline silk as a brake. They can also use their dragline as a bungee to pull captured prey right off of the substrate after an aerial strike! I slow-motion videoed a jumping spider (might be Colonus genus) leaping a short distance (short to us) of about eight inches. You can see how the spider scopes out its target landing site, bunches up its front three pairs of legs and launches! Check it out here.
When spring comes back around, and you have the good fortune of meeting any of these jumpers in person, take some time to check them out. Take photos and maybe a selfie to prove that you’ve met a rockstar. Jumping spiders may be the liaison connecting tentative people to spiders due to their curious, outgoing nature. Check out this super cute video for proof. For more proof, there is even an International Jumping Spider Day – October 10th. No other spider has that honor. They are just THAT COOL!
Peek at Wildlife Youtube channel has an excellent video summary all about jumpers. Link here.
Jackson, R.R., Wilcox, R.S. 1993. Spider Flexibly Chooses Aggressive Mimicry Signals for Different Prey by Trial and Error. Behavior, 120, 21-36.
Hill, D. E. 2016. Jumping spiders in outer space (Araneae: Salticidae). Peckhamia 146.1: 1-7.
Hill, D. E. 2018. Notes on the jumping spiders Colonus puerperus (Hentz 1846) and Colonus sylvanus (Hentz 1846) in the southeastern United States (Araneae: Salticidae: Amycoida: Gophoini). Peckhamia 99.2: 1-63.
Taylor, L.A., Maier, E.B., Byrne, K.J., Amin, Z.** and Morehouse, N.I. 2014. Colour use by tiny predators: Jumping spiders show colour biases during foraging. Animal Behaviour, 90, 149-157.