by Ellen Lambeth
Whee! What could be more fun than taking a wild leap through the air, with the wind blowing through your hair? For this hairy little spider, it's a way of life. Want to find out more? Jump right in!
Yes, there really are spiders that jump. And they're called—what else?—jumping spiders. There are lots of different kinds of jumping spiders—about 5,000 species or so. You'd probably find at least one species just about anywhere in the world. Most of them live in tropical places, but around 300 kinds live in the United States.
How will you recognize a jumping spider? Well, it jumps, of course. It may also make quick, jerky movements. Most jumpers are very hairy, too—and very small. Even the biggest kind of jumping spider is not much more than a half-inch long.
THE BETTER TO SEE YOU WITH
Want to know what really sets a jumping spider apart from other spiders? It's their eyes—and excellent vision. Try getting a close-up look at a jumping spider, and you might find it trying to get a good look at you, too! If you move, it may even scuttle around to get a better view.
Like other spiders, a jumper has eight eyes. Two huge ones and two small ones fill up the spider's flat face. On top of its head are two tiny eyes and two medium-sized ones. The result is awesome, all-around vision. A jumping spider can see better than any other kind of spider. It can even move its eyes—and the front end of its body—to help it focus.
The young apache jumping spider (top left) may look cute to you. But any insect that happens to land on the flower had better beware. From the crouched position, the spider is all set to pounce!
An adult apache jumping spider takes a flying leap (above). It's attached by a strand of silk, just in case it misses its mark.
The jumper (above right) has caught a cricket. In a flash, it uses its fangs to inject venom into the victim. That makes the meal easier to manage.
LIKE A TIGER
Jumping spiders make little silk "tents" for protection at night or in bad weather. But they don't spin webs and wait around patiently for food to show up and get stuck. They are active hunters on the prowl.
When a jumper spots a target—usually an unsuspecting insect—it starts stalking it. At just the right moment, the spider spins out a bit of silk and tacks it down where it's standing. Then it lifts its front legs and uses its back legs to spring into the air.
Shall we dance? With front legs held high, the dark male jumping spider above left tries to impress the paler female with his fancy moves. She watches politely, deciding whether to let him be her mate.
Even after her eggs hatch, Mama Spider continues to watch over her bustling brood in their cozy silken nursery (above).
A strand of silk called dragline trails behind, still anchored to the spider's "launchpad." If the spider misses its target, the dragline keeps it from falling too far. It also gives the jumper something to climb back up.
A sneaky jumping spider might leap on its prey from fairly close range. But it can also leap about 30 times its own length. That would be like you being able to make a standing long jump almost halfway across a football field!
If a jumping spider's spring-loaded attack is successful, it lands on its prey and grabs it in its jaws. The fangs inject venom that stop the prey from struggling. Then the spider can safely eat its meal in peace.
THE NEXT GENERATION
As you can see in the photos, jumping spiders may be very colorful. The males often have bands of bright colors on their legs or shimmery, jewel-like colors on their jaws. Female jumpers go "wow" over these features. To be even more attractive, a male may put on a show. And what better way to do that than with a dance routine?
He may wave his front legs, wag his rear, or vibrate his body. (Different kinds of jumpers do different dances.) If the female seems interested, he slowly approches while keeping up his act. Gently, he tries touching her with his front legs. If she's ready to mate, she'll stay still. Otherwise, she beats a retreat.
After a pair has mated, the female finds a sheltered place and lines it with silk. She lays her eggs in a silken sac and stands guard over it. The spiderlings that hatch look just like tiny adult jumpers. Before long, they'll leave home—carried away by a breeze on little draglines of their own.