Tag Archives: bold jumping spider (Phidippus audax)

Walking with spiders – Part 1

I used to take three kinds of walks: (1) without a camera so I could enjoy myself sans worrying about capturing this scene or that critter; (2) with a simple point-and-shoot camera I could drop in my pocket so I didn’t have to drag around too much camera equipment but could still snap a photo or two if the mood struck; and (3) with my dSLR, various lenses, filters, tripod and/or monopod, and all manner of equipment so I could focus seriously on capturing images of my experiences and encounters.

All of these photos stem from the second type, one with a point-and-shoot camera, a kind of walk I no longer take.  (I figure if the effort warrants carrying a camera, it warrants carrying the whole shebang.)

A female common hentz jumper (Hentzia palmarum) clinging to the side of a picnic table (20080629_08309)

I sat at a painted picnic table some years ago and watched as beautiful creatures scampered about, none of them worried for my presence because I sat still as a stone rests upon a shore.  That’s when this female common hentz jumper (Hentzia palmarum) walked up to me on the side of the metal structure.

Like all jumping spiders, she demonstrated that marvelous curiosity that makes them turn to face movement, turn to face anything that approaches, turn to face whatever might be out of the ordinary.

Together we played a game: Each time I moved the camera near to her for a photo, she would leap to the lens, investigate it for a moment, then leap back to the table.  This was a delightful encounter despite it not being conducive to good photography.

A male common hentz jumper (Hentzia palmarum) clinging to the side of a picnic table (20080629_08313)

Following close behind her was this male common hentz jumper (Hentzia palmarum).  Were they an item?  I would never know, of course.

Unlike his female counterpart, the male displayed a shy form of curiosity, never jumping to the lens but always turning to look.  If I moved the camera too near, he backed up beneath the edge of the table and took quick glances to see if it was safe to come back out.  Perhaps he had a rough childhood…

The table surface moved constantly with the comings and goings of acrobat ants (Crematogaster sp.).  It seemed the spiders had a nice selection of feast material…assuming they could capture one without eliciting ire from all the others.

A male bold jumping spider (Phidippus audax) hanging on the side of a house (20080809_10721)

At the family farm in East Texas, Mom and I watched this male bold jumping spider (Phidippus audax) climb the wall around the back door.  Each time I moved the camera for a better view, the arachnid lurched this way or that way, always putting the support pole between us before turning to gaze at the camera with serious intent.

I felt amazed at how large this specimen was compared to the same species when found in Dallas.  Their size indicates their age, hence I concluded Dallas had a colder winter than did East Texas (which is generally true).

When we have a mild winter with limited freezes, adult spiders can survive into the next year; they then become the granddaddy spiders whose size makes them intimidating for anyone with even limited arachnophobia.

A long-jawed orbweaver (Tetragnatha sp.) walking along the side of a concrete wall (20081004_13018)

Upon the White Rock Lake spillway where a colony of ants busily focused on relocating their colony, this long-jawed orbweaver (Tetragnatha sp.) continually looked for a way to cross the raging river of insects.  I watched it attempt this several times, and each time the spider found itself the uncomfortable subject of much ant attention as guards protected the larvae being moved by workers.

Part of me suspects this is a Guatemalan long-jawed orb weaver (Tetragnatha guatemalensis).  The reason for this is twofold: (1) that species is common in Dallas, and (2) I am forever enamored of the Guatemalan long-jaw for the giant spider web they built two years ago at Lake Tawakoni State Park.

That leviathan silken construct no doubt represents the most powerful and magical nature moment I have ever experienced.  To walk for acres and acres without leaving the inside of one massive web…  To see a species act communally when such behavior is rare for them…  To look in any direction and see thousands of spiders, many millions of them covering a vast swath of forest…  To see an entire peninsula transformed from verdant woodlands to shimmering web, from the ground to the treetops, silk stretching in every direction and spun so thick that it blocked out the sun…  To witness so many spider species taking advantage of the enormous insect-capturing capabilities of the phenomenon…  To stand silently in the midst of something so rare outside the tropics, something profound and powerful built in such a short time that even park rangers were taken by surprise when the scope of the web was finally realized…

I could go on for days trying to describe that experience.  Let me just say that anyone who has never been inside such a thing cannot understand.  Words do it injustice.  Standing in the midst of many millions of spiders who built a web that encompassed a massive plot of land and everything in it, and built the web to capture prey and not as part of a dispersal event…  Well, let’s just say the encounter was spiritual.

But I digress…

A funnel-web spider (Barronopsis texana) sitting at the entrance to its web (2009_09_27_029766)

Near a bit of woodlands separating White Rock Lake Park from a nearby residential area, I stepped behind an old rusty sign to peer into the understory.  Just in case something of interest might be hiding there.  A few common birds flitted about the canopy, but otherwise the area seemed devoid of skunks or rabitts or snakes, the kinds of things I hoped to find, so I turned to walk away.

That’s when I noticed this on the back of the sign: tucked quietly in a corner full of webbing, this funnel-web spider (Barronopsis texana) hid quietly in the shadows.  I retrieved the little point-and-shoot from my pocket, tiptoed over to the sign, and snapped one picture before my presence sent the arachnid scampering into the web.

A twinflagged jumping spider (Anasaitis canosa) looking at me (2009_04_26_016642)

The delightfully entertaining twinflagged jumping spider (Anasaitis canosa) remains common, ubiquitous in fact.  When the weather is warm, I can find half a dozen or more as they race about my patio looking for food.

Like all jumping spiders, their insatiable curiosity leads to much amusement and interaction.  I often put a hand down and let them jump to it, then lift them up for a close look before lowering them so they can continue their hunt.  And if I want to stare into their eyes, I simply need to move near them and they immediately turn to face me.

They’re called “twinflagged” because of the white visible on the palps (the small appendages on either side of the mouth).  When moving about, they oscillate the palps up and down opposite each other.  The white being terribly visible makes this constant motion look like white flags being waved on either side of the face.  It’s quite intriguing to see and quickly makes clear precisely where they got their name.

We are Legion, for we are many (Part 3)

One interesting aspect of the gigantic spider web at Lake Tawakoni State Park is that, like all other communal webs, the builders are not the only inhabitants of the structure.  Generally speaking, social spiders often share their architectural wonders with many species of arachnids and insects alike.  North Texas’ own majestic marvel is no different.

By and large, long-jawed orb weavers (of the genus Tetragnatha) make up the vast majority of inhabitants.  Their numbers undoubtedly count in the millions.  They are the rightful owners and occupiers of this adaptive, growing spectacle.  In fact, walking through the web invites one to see these small spiders in mass quantities, whether that be in a blanket draped above your head or a writhing mass covering every inch of everything.  They are the apparent masters of their new realm, and they are solely responsible for the enormous and constantly-changing creation.

Nevertheless, I discovered they share their home with all manner of kith and kin, both arachnid and insect alike.  As I pointed out, such a thing is anticipated with communal webs such as this one, yet it never failed to amaze me each time I stumbled upon another squatter, another interloper who moved in and camped out in an abode built to house someone else.

A female Black & Yellow Argiope (a.k.a Yellow Garden Spider, Argiope aurantia) (209_0976)

The first visitor I discovered dwarfed her hosts by orders of magnitude.  A female Black & Yellow Argiope (a.k.a Yellow Garden Spider, Argiope aurantia), another orb weaver, sat quietly in the middle of her web as the long-jawed orb weavers scurried all around her in their frantic yet organized construction.  With their numbers so overwhelming, more than once I witnessed them chancing upon her web, yet she never moved nor made any indication that she would attack them—although I have no doubt she would.  She could kill as many as she wanted, though, and would have no impact whatsoever on their overall numbers.

An unidentified spider (209_0999)

As I attempted to get a close-up of some leaves caught in the middle of webbing, this small spider hurried into view just as I snapped the photo, then it promptly scampered up onto the web and out of sight.  While I’ve not identified the exact species in this case, I saw many of these scattered throughout the structure.  In fact, I saw a handful of these kinds of large-bodied spiders sharing the web as well, although too often they were impossible to photograph.

Surprisingly, true insects had moved in as well.  I discovered a type of mantis treating the web like they had always lived there.  Unfortunately, they were so small and so well camouflaged that it was impossible to get photos of them.  Their bodies were as thin as the web itself, so they could not be seen until they moved; otherwise, they blended in perfectly.

A Differential Grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis) hiding in the massive spider web (210_1015)

Differential Grasshoppers (Melanoplus differentialis) seemed unconcerned with the web, often found resting within its midst and under cover of its thickest blanket.  Although not the best photograph, you’ll even note in that image that the grasshopper shares the frame with a long-jawed orb weaver (bottom-left) and a kind of jumping spider (top-left).  Not one of them seemed at all concerned about the others.

A Differential Grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis) surrounded by spider web with two long-jawed orb weavers (of the genus Tetragnatha) nearby (210_1019)

That differential grasshopper enjoyed a perch completely shielded by webbing, but he was not alone.  If you look closely, there are two long-jawed orb weavers lurking nearby.  Both are hiding on the underside of leaves, one at top-left and another at bottom-left.

A slug caterpillar of the genus Euclea (210_1024)

I nearly overlooked this slug caterpillar of the genus Euclea (possibly Euclea delphinii or Euclea nanina, as both are presently indistinguishable from each other).  Its position near the middle of a web-covered bush, in addition to its color, made it virtually impossible to see.  Had I not been knelt down looking at a bit of web building, I would never have noticed it.  It regrettably could not be photographed up close since a shroud of web encircled its position, so all I could do was put the camera as near the web as possible and try to focus through it.

A Differential Grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis) hanging from a leaf (210_1033)

Yet another differential grasshopper minding its own business in the middle of an arachnid nightmare.  This one clung easily to a leaf buried deep in the heart of spiderland.  Thankfully, I found a rather convenient hole in the web that allowed me to put the camera quite near this insect without disturbing a single strand of silk.

A female Black & Yellow Argiope (a.k.a Yellow Garden Spider, Argiope aurantia) (210_1031)

A mere five steps from the first one, I then discovered this second and much larger Black & Yellow Argiope.  Her web placed her at knee level.  Despite the growing throng of people that had appeared by then, and despite many of them getting quite near her to snap some photos, she never moved and never displayed even the smallest bit of interest in all the goings on.  She had three egg sacks hidden in the bush from which her web dangled.  They were impossible to photograph due to the impenetrable webbing that covered the whole of the plant.

[more images and observations to follow in Part 4, the last of this series]

[Update] The second photo shows a bronze jumping spider (Eris militaris).  The jumping spider in the top-left corner of the third photo is a bold jumping spider (Phidippus audax).