Okay, so you don’t particularly care for spiders, those creepy, crawly arachnids that give you the willies. Their webs gross you out and the thought of one dropping down on you from a silken thread causes your heart to race and your palms to sweat. I bet you’re visualizing a big fat body carried on long spindly legs that travels on invisible lines in dark corners of basements and attics.
Forget all that for a moment while we get to know the teddy bear of the spider world, the adorable jumping spider.
There are almost 3,000 species of jumping spider (family Salticidae), with about 300 found in the United States and Canada. Most are quite small, less than a half-inch long. Many are only half that size. They can be quite colorful, with striking patterns on their legs and bodies. Like all spi¬ders, jumping spiders have eight legs, but their legs are fairly short and stout. Combine that with a furry, squat body and large, inquisitive eyes and you have yourself a tiny, almost cuddly, teddy bear.
Jumping spiders are active during the day, loving bright sunny spots. Look for them hanging out on flower heads, along outside deck railings and inside window¬sills as they hunt for small insects. They have excellent eyesight; it certainly doesn’t hurt to have eight eyes. A row of four eyes on the front of the head (two large ones in the center, with two smaller on each side) along with four tiny eyes on the top of the head allow them to see in many directions. Some can recognize prey at a whopping distance of eight inches, roughly 150 feet to you and me.
A jumping spider moves in a series of erratic steps and jumps. It can leap several inches to land on prey, always remembering to secure a silk thread before the jump. The thread is helpful if the spider misses and must climb back to where it started.
If you happen to find a jumping spider in a particular spot inside your house, chances are you will be able to see it in the same area for days to come. A warm kitchen windowsill is the perfect place to look, especially if small insects (like fruit flies) also congregate there. Watch as the tiny jumping spider stalks its miniature prey and then pounces. Try dropping a small bead of water near the spider to see if it will drink. Or tap on the sill beside the spider and see it turn to face you. It may raise its front pair of legs to you, or it may just stare. By using a hand lens you can take this wonderful opportunity to get up close and personal with the little predator that hunts your household insects.