If you have been a follower of this column for any length of time, you have read about my opinions on favoritism multiple times, whether it be a movie, a food group, music or even a different animal species. Well, once again, I would like to write about another one of my favorites, this time an agile little creature with four pairs of legs.
Jumping spiders are a large and diverse group of spiders that can be observed throughout the United States and Mexico. Taxonomically speaking, this family is represented by 45 genera and 101 species in Texas alone. The specimens that are the best known in this area are the 15 species that belong to the genus Phidippus, with the most commonly observed species being Phidippus audax, otherwise known as the bold jumping spider.
Bold jumping spiders, like other species of arachnids, have a body that consists of two parts (the cephalothorax and the abdomen) as well as the customary eight legs, although the legs are much hairier than most other species. The front two legs are by far the longest and heaviest, and that characteristic, coupled with the abdomen typically being much more slender than the cephalothorax, gives this spider the appearance of a miniature body-builder. The dorsal coloration is mostly black, and there is usually a large light spot in the center of the upper-side of the abdomen. This spot is generally white in adults, while in juveniles it can be yellow or orange in coloration. Females are slightly larger in size than males, reaching a total body length up to three-quarters of an inch, while males only attain a size of one-half an inch.
There are a few characteristics that can be utilized to distinguish bold jumpers from other species of spiders. One of these characteristics is the eye arrangement. In Phidippus species, the eyes on the very front of the body are quite large, almost giving this spider a humanoid look about it. By adding to this the presence of hair tufts, much like eyebrows, above the front eyes, the resemblance is just that much more apparent. The other six eyes are much smaller and are arranged in a square-shaped area behind the front eyes. Another characteristic is the coloration of the chelicerae, which is a basically just a big word for the front jaw area. The chelicerae is brightly colored with an iridescent blue or, more commonly in west Texas, an iridescent green.
As the name implies, this species of spider is capable of jumping to either escape a perceived predator or to ambush its prey. It has been estimated that jumping spiders can leap up to 10 times the length of their body. Generally, the move in quick, jerky movements, only using the ability of leaping for the above mentioned reasons.
This species of spider is an excellent hunter, utilizing the vision of its large eyes, leaping ability and robust body size to overpower many types of smaller invertebrates, including many that are considered to be either harmful or a nuisance. Prey items include flies, boll weevils, tobacco budworms, bollworms, and leafworms.
The bold jumping spider inhabits many different habitats, and it is often found in and around human dwellings. The facts that they are black in coloration (many people naturally assume that any black spider is a black widow), are not very shy and can leap large distances make many people fear this beautiful and harmless little insect-eater, and many are killed needlessly. If one is to overcome any natural (or unnatural) fear of spiders, this minute little bundle of personality is a prime candidate to watch and enjoy.