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Giant Jumping Spiders

18 Jan
Paraphidippus basalis, a cousin of the bold jumping spider.

A large jumping spider from the Arizona desert.

I ran into this lovely individual while attending the Ants of the Southwest course at the Southwestern Research Station in Arizona.  I’ve always had a soft spot for the charismatic jumping spider, and the widespread bold jumping spider –similarly marked in Halloween orange and blacks– is one of my favorites (and one I’ve posted about here before).  The spider pictured here, however, has the distinction of being easily the biggest jumping spider I’ve ever seen.

Black and orange spotted jumping spider on arm.

Paraphidippus basalis jumping spider on a human arm for size reference.

In fact, this individual turns out to be a close cousin to the bold jumping spider, a member of the genus Paraphidippus (“beside Phidippus”) rather than the genus Phidippus.  Other than that, I can’t find much information about P. basalis.  There are pictures of it tagged from Arizona and New Mexico, and Discover Life’s only data point comes from the New Mexico biodiversity collection.  Two people on Bugguide report finding it on agave plants in Arizona (mine was found crossing a trail in the vicinity of agave).

This spider may also look familiar to you for other reasons:  According to Wikipedia, its more common sister species, Paraphidippus aurantius, was the model for the giant mutant spiders that terrorized the Arizona mining town in the humorous horror movie Eight Legged Freaks.

Jumping spider attacks cop car in Eight Legged Freaks (photo via IMDB).

Jumping spider attacks cop car in Eight Legged Freaks (photo via IMDB).

Zebra Spider

18 May
Close up of black and white striped zebra jumping spider.

Stripey zebra jumping spider.

Here’s a particularly adorable jumping spider I found being adorable on a dead tree by the Red River in Oklahoma.  Like most jumpers this fellow did not want to let the camera get close–I’ve cropped the above photo way down so we can all admire his stripey splendor.  This is a member of Salticus, the zebra jumpers, so called for the black and white stripes seen in many species.

This particular species (Salticus austinensis Gertsch; Det. Joe Lapp, 2012) is a conspicuous predator, with an active period in the brightest part of the day that is shorter than many similar jumping spider species it cohabits with.  They prefer large, vertical foraging areas such as walls, rocks faces, or in this case, the broad flat side of a dead tree.  Such well lit, open expanses may help them avoid ambush predators.  (Horner et al 1988)

Zebra striped black and white jumping spider on swirly tree bark.

Jumping spider against tree bark.

A Heap of Queens – Foundress fire ants

26 Aug

Fire ant alates pile up on a sidewalk after a rain.
We finally had rain again.  I think it has rained twice this summer.  And with the rain come fire ant queens!

Fire ants mate in nuptial flights hundreds or thousands of feet in the air.  They use environmental cues to both synchronize mating flights with other colonies and ensure that conditions are good for founding new colonies.  This means that the afternoon following a rain (particularly if it’s been dry for a while) hundreds and thousands of newly mated queens can be found wandering the ground in search of a good nest site.  (The dying males are also in abundance.)  The foundresses may start colonies alone, in groups, or even join existing colonies.  In the meantime these ants explore every available nook and crevice which may provide both refuge and a good start on a nest tunnel.

Winged sexual fire ants cluster together

A pile of newly mated fire ant foundresses is revealed from under a twig.

The alates are easiest to find in areas where they have trouble going to ground.  For instance, on a hard gravel pathway or a paved road you may turn a leaf or a stone and find a dozen queens wedged underneath.  In some cases, like the picture at the beginning of this post, I have even found piles of fire ant alates apparently attempting to hide under each other (or at least conserve moisture).  When not hiding, the wandering alates are  easy to spot due to their large, shiny abdomens and awkward, trundling walk.

Male alate (Solenopsis invicta) is predated by jumping spider following a mating flight.

A jumping spider (Salticidae) devours a male sexual fire ant.

The sudden surge in these slow, mostly defenseless sexuals (the queen’s stinger/ovipositor is modified for egg-laying) makes a tasty meal for many predators.  Don’t think a queen is completely helpless however.  I’ve personally observed a foundress with an egg clutch tear a dozen invading fire ant workers limb from limb with her mandibles alone.

Jumping Spider Greetings

26 Nov
A jumping spider (Salticidae) peering over a grass blade in Argentina.

A jumping spider (Salticidae) peering over a grass blade in Argentina.

I couldn’t think of any Thanksgiving related insects (poultry lice might be appropriate but I don’t have any pictures and they don’t exactly make me hungry for turkey) so instead here’s a close up of a  jumping spider from Argentina.  I figured it worked for Halloween, so why not?

This fellow’s keeping a wary eye on the camera since I had just startled him out of his refuge and chased him up and down the grass blade trying to get a shot of him.  Bugs love me.  I’ve talked about jumping spiders a couple times before so if you’re overwhelmed with a need to know more about these little guys you are in luck!    Otherwise, go eat some turkey!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Halloween Spiders

29 Oct
A bold jumping spider, Phidippus audax

A bold jumping spider, Phidippus audax

In honor of Halloween I bring you spiders!  This little guy is a bold jumping spider who has been keeping me company in the lab for over a year now.  Bold jumping spiders are some of the largest and most recognizable jumpers I see around here, and some of my favorites.  These spiders are typically black with three white spots on the abdomen, although these markings may be yellow or orange in young spiders.  This particular spider started out with orange markings like a jack-o-lantern face which changed to white after the first molting in the lab.  A closer look will also reveal metallic blue or green chelicerae (mouthparts for grasping food, and the fangs in spiders).

A bold jumping spider, Phidippus audax

A bold jumping spider, Phidippus audax

Jumping spiders belong to the family Salticidae, from the latin “salto” or “jump”.   As their name suggests they are excellent jumpers, able to leap more than ten times their body length to capture prey or avoid predators.  They do not spin webs, but use their silk as safety lines to anchor them when jumping, and also weave refuges, thick mats of silk to hide and shelter in.  The position and size of the eight eyes is often used as a character to distinguish spiders; the center front pair of eyes in salticids is enlarged, giving them excellent color vision and resolution as well as a somewhat more humanlike appearance than many other spiders.

A bold jumping spider, Phidippus audax

A bold jumping spider confronting a pair of forceps.