Have I got a Hallowe’en creature for you! What’s more, it’s a spider!
An Apache Jumping Spider is a rich orange color with black legs. It is hairy. It has huge eyes that glow greenish. It can jump 25 times its body length to capture prey. Sounds scary, doesn’t it?
The first I heard about this orange, hairy spider was a few weeks ago. My friend, Nancy Lawson, had seen one on her doormat in Cadiz. She described it and my first thought was that it was a velvet ant. These ants have orange fuzz on their bodies and black legs. But Nancy was sure it was a spider; it had eight legs and just two body segments. (Insects have only six legs and three body segments.)
I asked if she had a photo of the creature. She did. She showed me the picture she had taken with her iPhone. The spider was huge – monstrous, even! It filled the screen of her phone. With black hairy legs, and a puffy body covered with what looked like reddish-brown fur, I thought it was a tarantula! I wouldn’t want to meet up with one in the daylight, much less the dark!
But I couldn’t find any orange tarantulas in my spider guides. The closest thing to what I had seen in the photo was a little jumping spider, scarcely a half-inch long.
One of my professors had a saying: “Size will fool you.” And once again, it had. The photo was a close-up. I had just assumed that the spider was four inches long!
A few days later, Nancy captured one of the little jumping spiders. It was actually quite cute. Small enough to sit on a penny, it was not at all frightening.
I read up on jumping spiders. There are 114 species of jumping spiders found in Texas. They are all rather small and have a curious arrangement of eyes: Eight eyes in all. Two big ones are close together on the front of the spider’s head. These two eyes look almost like headlights on a VW bug. On each side of the big eyes is a small eye. Behind the big eyes, on the top of the head (cephalothorax, technically) are another pair of tiny eyes. And then, almost on the back of the head are two more large eyes. (As a teacher, what I would have given to have eyes like that!)
Needless to say, jumping spiders are visual hunters. With eight eyes giving them almost 360-degrees of vision, they can see everything going on around them. If a fly lands a few inches away, the spider readies himself for the lunge. He tacks down a strand of spider silk with the spinnerets on his abdomen. In the blink of an eye, he jumps. Usually, he gets his prey. But if he misses his mark, the strand of silk allows him to pull himself back up to his original perch.
Although jumping spiders can make silk, they do not make webs. Webs are for trapping prey. Jumping spiders are designed to leap on their victims and overpower them with force. They also inject the prey with venom (like nearly all spiders) to immobilize it. To feed, the spider secretes digestive enzymes to liquefy the insides of the victim. It then drinks its dinner. The empty husk of the bug is left hanging by a thread.
The Apache Jumping Spider belongs to the genus Phidippus which includes some of the hairiest and heaviest of all the jumping spiders. Even so they are still tiny. It takes a magnifying glass to appreciate their hairiness. The males typically have long black hairs near their top eyes. These eyebrow tufts contrast nicely with the orange body hairs. It almost looks like they are wearing false eyelashes! These eyebrows may help shade the spider’s eyes from too bright a light. Or maybe they make the male more attractive to the female. Certainly, Apache Jumpers are strikingly handsome!
If you do see a jumping spider, I hope you won’t squash it. Gently pick it up with a piece of paper or your hand. It is very unlikely to bite you. Move it to a more convenient location for you, but let it live. It will remove much more unpleasant pests, like flies and roaches, from your home and garden. And, in a tiny way, it helps you decorate for Hallowe’en.