My first jumping spider

As a long-time professional and avocational entomologist, I find beauty and fascination in all manner of joint-legged creatures. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and most people don’t exactly share my passion for these animals. Sure, butterflies enjoy almost universal approval, but beetles are just too crunchy, flies too filthy, wasps too aggressive, and cockroaches… well, eww! Even crabs and lobsters, tasty as they are, just move too robotically to engender any feelings of affection. None of these groups, however, seem to be as universally reviled as spiders – scuttling blurs of leg and fur with beady little eyes, just waiting to launch a sneak attack with their venomous gnashers. Few other coin-sized animals can cause an otherwise lucid adult to run screaming from their bathroom with such terror.

Except jumping spiders! Jumping spiders (family Salticidae) possess many of the same traits that condemn other spiders to the ranks of the creepy – hair and venom and lots of eyes; yet they have other unique qualities that make them nevertheless endearing, almost cuddly, to all but the most ardent of arachnophobes. Their human-like “face” featuring two large, forward-facing eyes and inquisitive nature give them a charisma that almost invites interaction. Approach any other spider, and it scampers back into the nearest crevice. Jumping spiders, on the other hand, turn and face the intruder – you can almost see them sizing you up – perhaps even moving forward a little to have a better look. It makes them seem, well… intelligent. Add to that their stunning diversity (~5,000 species), dazzling colors, and the sometimes impressively elongated choppers of the males, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for charm. Bouncy, furry, smart, cute, and big bright eyes – almost sounds like a kitten!

The result of all this charm is that jumping spiders are wildly popular subjects for macrophotography. Accordingly, there has been a veritable explosion of online photographs of jumping spiders, dominated by close-ups of that irresistible face. These shots here represent my first attempt to photograph one of these endearing creatures, and while I’m happy with them considering my relative newness to the field, they are a far cry from the spectacular images being produced by some other photographers. Perhaps the best of these is Thomas Shahan, whose focus-stacked facial shots of these spiders are among the most stunning that you will find. Another photographer who has produced some excellent photographs of Malaysian jumping spiders is Kurt at Up Close with Nature. Perhaps someday my jumping spider photographs will be considered on par with those that these two gentlemen are producing – if that day comes, you can say it began right here!

I’m a beetle-man, so except for a brief attempt at ant taxonomy my area of expertise lies with the Coleoptera. Nevertheless, perusing the well-stocked archives at BugGuide leads me to believe that the individual I photographed is a subadult female in the genus Phidippus – perhaps something in the putnami species-group.  I found her on a lower branch of sweetgum (Liquidamber styraciflua) in a wet-mesic bottomland forest along the Black River in Missouri’s southeastern Ozarks feeding on a blow fly (family Calliphoridae).  While relatively drably-colored compared to many other species in the family, a glimpse of her bright blue-green chelicerae (fangs) can still be seen.  I tried to get her to drop her prey to get a better look at the fangs, but she wasn’t having anything to do with that – mealtime is mealtime!

Photo Details: Canon MP-E 65 mm 1-5X macro lens on Canon 50D, ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/13-14, MT-24EX flash 1/8 power w/ Sto-Fen diffusers. Minimal cropping and post-processing.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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32 thoughts on “My first jumping spider

  1. Love these little spiders! There were some hopping about in the same habitat as I photographed my first tiger beetles of the year, but they did not deign to pose for me.

    Good shot. At first I thought the green on the chelicerae was caused by reflections off the blowfly!

    • Thanks, Adrian. I saw the green choppers through the viewfinder when I was taking the shots, but I did not realize how brilliant they were until I got the photos up on the computer.

  2. The graduate students here recently invited Wayne Maddison to their yearly symposium. In his talk, he gave a good overview of current phylogenetics and evolution (mostly, I think his point was that in spite of the pervasiveness of reticulate evolution, we are making progress).

    As usual with Wayne, he sees all of Nature through the lens of the Salticidae. Whenever he saw heads starting to nod, he’d pop in a video of a dancing jumping spider or two. I don’t think anyone can resist them (and based on the question period, few can resist anthropomorphising them). If you haven’t seen them making their moves, Youtube has quite a few on offer, e.g.

    • What a thoroughly entertaining video!

      I’m just glad that during my dating day, if I made a wrong move on the dance floor it didn’t result in my being eaten!

      p.s. I wasn’t aware of Wayne Maddison before your comment, but it looks like he’s the man for salticid phylogeny and evolution.

  3. Nicely written account, Ted. I’m pretty clearly going to have to link to this entry for my Field Biology students next semester!

    I was pretty fortunate with my first jumping spider photography session and learned a few things that I hope to try over the next few months. Double-clicking the image will give you a larger image.

    If I went out around noon I was able to see the outlines of resting jumping spiders through leaves of several flowering plant species. As you know, their body form is pretty distinctive.

    If there was heavy pollinator activity at a flower that had a jumping spider nearby, I stayed at that flower and focused on each pollinator that landed on the side of the flower near the spider outline. I captured as many images of that pollinator as I could. If I was lucky I was able to capture the approach and grab.

    Move in just a little bit immediately after the grab, and the spider will rotate toward you for that golden photo moment before it disappears into the vegetation with its prey.

    I’m looking forward to trying this again.

  4. It’s true – there’s something about jumpers that makes you wanna scratch ’em behind the ears. And while there are lots of amazing macros of them on the web, yours are quite good too Ted – so keep it up – they deserve the spotlight (or macro flash).

  5. They are very cute little things. I think their size also helps — I bet if they were as big as a bird-eating spider they wouldn’t be so popular. (With me, anyway.)

    Great photos!

  6. Oh my… These are fantastic shots, Ted. Stunning! As a newb in this area, you ‘jumped’ way ahead of most.

    I like all spiders, but jumping spiders especially. It’s that sense of curiosity when they turn to face you, stare you down even. And bold. They’re quite bold yet docile, easily handled–at least until they jump right out of your hand. Now where’d spider go…

  7. what darling photos! I have one, a Phidippus audax I think? who hangs out in my shower. Love the little guy. Glad I’m not the only one…

  8. Put me down as another Salticid fan. Love the way they stare back at you, and cock their little head slightly to the side. You can almost hear it thinking “whats he up to”?

  9. I am not a very big fan of spiders for some reason (might have to do with an incident with a black widow when I was very young), but I LOVE LOVE LOVE the jumpers! Enough that I’ll scoop them up and let them crawl on me from time to time. They’re simply fabulous. Love the photos! Those eyes are amazing.

  10. Pingback: My first jumping spider (via Beetles In The Bush) | Finnish Spiderman


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