— This article by Jerry Cates and Katie Baker, first published on 1 December 2012, was last revised on 8 October 2013. © Bugsinthenews Vol. 13:12(01).
Katie wrote me on 26 November 2012:
I found this spider the other day in Blanco, Texas. It looks like a type of jumping spider. However, I cannot find any information regarding what species it might be. Thank you so much! I hope you can help.
When I first glanced at Katie’s photo (fig. 001), I was immediately intrigued. The chelicerae (the mouthparts projecting from the spider’s face) are unusually long and narrow. They almost have the appearance of a separate pair of long, stout legs, and are quite unlike the mouthparts of most of the spiders I’ve worked with in the past. The animal’s eight legs confirm it as an arachnid, and its body and well-formed eyes suggest it is almost certainly an araneid arachnid — as opposed to a tick, mite, scorpion, harvestman, or solpugid. Looking closer, I have to agree with Katie that its body and the arrangement of the eyes are those of a jumping spider. Her opinion, most likely, was bolstered by watching its behavior, as it vaulted about with the seeming careless abandon for which jumping spiders are known.
But what is its exact identity?
Today the best reference available for identifying spiders found in North America to family and genus is Spiders of North America: An Identification Manual. This book, which I consult several times a day, was edited by Darrell Ubick, Pierre Paquin, Paula E. Cushing, and V. Roth, and published in 2005 by the American Arachnological Society. Though a number of important revisions have been made to araneid taxonomy since then, it remains an excellent identification guide. The appendices include a robust glossary and pronunciation guide, replete with detailed drawings crafted by the talented artist, Nadine Dupérré, plus an etymological dictionary of North American spider genus names. The etymological dictionary is worth the full price of the book by itself, so if you do not yet have this book in your library, I urge you to get one. It will eventually be out of print, and even if used copies are available afterward, they will probably cost more than today’s price for a new book. So, buy the book. The sooner you do so, the better. You will thank me for this kindly urging...
Naturally, the first thing I did with Katie’s photo was to open Ubick’s Manual (described above), and thumb to page 205, Chapter 52, on the Salticidae. Fifteen pages of this book are devoted to salticids, with a dichotomous key to most of the genera, replete with drawings of the anatomical characters that figure prominently in the key. By comparison, Jan Beccaloni, in her excellent text on the Arachnids (2009, Univ. Calif. Press), devotes only one paragraph to that family. She does mention them in passing several more times and — surprisingly — even has a photo, on page 69, of one in the same genus as Katie’s spider (Bagheera, Peckham & Peckham 1896), though she doesn’t mention it by name. Howell and Jenkins, in their informative book Spiders of the Eastern United States: A Photographic Guide (2004, Pearson Edu.) provide a full 40 pages of photographs and textual descriptions of a variety of salticids, but without a key, and say nothing about spiders in the genus Bagheera. That is understandable, of course, once one realizes that these spiders are only found in Texas (and never in the Eastern U.S.), but one can search far and wide in books on Texas spiders without finding this one portrayed.
Baccaloni points out, in her terse paragraph on the jumpers, that the Salticidae comprises the most diverse family of spiders known. Today, according to Norm Platnick’s 25 June 2012 listing at the American Museum of Natural History, this family includes 579 genera (exceeded only by the 589 genera of the Linyphiidae) and 5,468 species (exceeded by no other family, including the Linyphiidae, which has but 4,419 species). In Ubick’s identification guide, the chapter on the Salticidae is written by David B. Richman, G. B. Edwards, and Bruce Cutler and points out that some 63 genera and more than 315 species of salticid jumping spiders were known at that time to be found in North America. Following an erudite discussion on taxonomy, they list the characters unique to certain genera. This is important. It helps the investigator to cue in on major attributes, and Katie’s has two that we can see from just looking at her photo: (1) metallic, iridescent scales that coat its carapace and abdomen and color them with bronze, brown, and reddish hues, and (2) an awesome set of chelicerae.
Thirteen unique characters are listed. The first is
“1. Eyes in 4 rows, spiders translucent green.”
Nope… not a bit of green on Katie’s spider. Next,
Nope, again, although the investigator would need to know that “ant-like” means the abdomen is constricted somewhere along its length. So we proceed, onward, with the same negative results, one character after the other… (you must be persistent in this work), eventually arriving at
“9. Spiders with more or less extensive iridescent or metallic scales.”
Sounds like Katie’s spider to me… and the genera with this attribute are listed as follows:
“… Agassa, Messua, Bagheera, Paradamoetas, Sassacus, Salticus peckhamae, most Paraphidippus, females of Eris, and females of Tutelina.“
Well, that’s a bunch, but one has to start somewhere, and — as that song from “The Sound of Music” put it — the beginning is a very good place…
The genus Agassa is first mentioned in the generic key on page 210. Notice, by the way, that although the keys to each spider family described in Ubick’s guide appear, at first glance, to require a microscopic examination of the spider, that isn’t strictly so. Much can be learned simply by perusing the generic key and reading the descriptions for each genus. You do need to keep in mind that each genus may be represented in the key several times, and a generic name that is appended with the words “…, in part,” is only partially described at that particular couplet. A full description of that genus will have to include all the other partial descriptions, too.
Here, on page 210, we learn that the genus Agassa (not appended by “...in part,” so we can presume this to be a complete description) comprises, in North America, only one species, A. cyanea (Hentz, 1846). Nadine Dupérré’s drawing, in the right-hand half of the page, depicts the spider’s habitus, or general appearance including the way the legs are arranged in the resting position. The description on the left explains that it resembles a flea beetle, and Nadine’s drawing shows how the abdomen and carapace are nearly the same size (as would be expected with a flea beetle), but says nothing about its chelicerae. Katie’s spider, however, has an abdomen twice to three times as long as the carapace. At this point we are not absolutely certain of the spider’s gender, but we can at least say that one gender of this species is fitted with a gnarly set of chelicerae. Such chelicerae would not pass unnoticed by anyone describing this genus, methinks. “So,” I tell myself, “Katie’s spider can’t be Agassa…”
The genus Messua is not mentioned in the generic key for several more pages, so I scan each page forward, successively, keeping a sharp eye out for it. On the way I pass by Sassacus, twice (both with “...in part“ appended). I exclude it for reasons similar to those used to exclude Agassa, and proceed on, finally happening upon Messua on page 216, the last page of the Salticidae family. Here the text reads
“Bright, iridescent green in color (like a larger, more slender Sassacus), males with long, divergent chelicerae (fig. 52.58)…”
The genus name is not “…in part,” so this description is complete, and though it contains a strong disqualifier (the green color) it also includes a tantalizing mention of long chelicerae. The long chelicerae of Messua, however, are divergent, and Nadine Dupérré’s drawing (fig. 52.58), directly to the right of the text, depicts graphically what is meant by that: the long jaws of that spider are splayed outward, laterally, joined to the mouth at a 90-degree angle. It is obvious why this has to be the case, as — on that spider — each jaw is fitted with an equally long fang that folds into its prolateral surface (i.e. the anterior surface of the appendage, which in this case means the interior surfaces of the 90-degree angle described by the divergent jaws); if the chelicerae were held parallel to one another as they are with Katie’s spider, they’d be useless, incapable of articulation. But, no matter, the green color of Messua rules it out.
Ah, but not so fast: the key arrives here from couplet 60 on the previous page, which has the following criteria:
“Both sexes iridescent green or bronze in color or with an iridescent green sheen; males with elongated chelicerae…”
Here, at couplet 61, directly below the description of Messua on page 216, is another description, this time for the genus Bagheera, which reads as follows:
“Brown to bronze in color; male with long, parallel chelicerae (fig. 52.60)…”
And Nadine Dupérré’s drawing, on the right, portrays Katie’s spider perfectly.
More to come…
NOTE: All photos in this article, as with all images posted on BugsInTheNews, may be enlarged for more detailed examination, by clicking on the photo.
The more one learns about this spider, the more interesting it becomes. To begin with, more than likely it is a vegetarian, while the vast majority of spiders worldwide are carnivorous and almost never consume vegetable matter as part of their diet.
I add the caveat, “more than likely,” because few studies have been made of the behavior and diet of Bagheera prosper (Peckham & Peckham, 1901), which is found in the southern U.S. and northern Mexico. On the other hand, Bagheera kiplingi (Peckham & Peckham, 1896), which has a similar appearance to B. prosper, but occurs in Mexico and Guatemala, is much better known and its diet has been determined to consist primarily of the lipid-and-protein-rich Beltian bodies found as nubs at tips of the leaves of certain plants in the Acacia family. Other animals, chiefly formicine ants in the genus Pseudomyrmex, are also fond of those tasty morsels. As might be guessed, the latter and B. kiplingi recognize each other as competitors, and thus tend to be quite antagonistic toward one another. We are, in my considered opinion, entitled to presume that B. prosper is also primarily a vegetarian. That said, should we get a chance to study the area near where Katie’s spider was found, the possibility is good that we’d also find some trees in the acacia family there or nearby. I’m seriously considering such a study. B. prosper should be as well-known as her near relative to the south…
- Kingdom Animalia (an-uh-MAYHL-yuh) — first described in 1758 by the Swedish taxonomist Carolus Linnaeus (1707 – 1778), using the Latin word animal = “a living being,” from the Latin word anima = “vital breath”, to refer to multicellular, eukaryotic organisms whose body plans become fixed during development, some of which undergo additional processes of metamorphosis later in their lives; most of which are motile, and thus exhibit spontaneous and independent movements; and all of whom are heterotrophs that feed by ingesting other organisms or their products;
- Phylum Arthropoda (ahr-THROPP-uh-duh) — first described in 1829 by the French zoologist Pierre André Latreille [November 20, 1762 – February 6, 1833], using the two Greek roots αρθρον (AR-thron) = jointed + ποδ (pawd) = foot, in an obvious reference to animals with jointed feet, but in the more narrow context of the invertebrates, which have segmented bodies as well as jointed appendages;
- Subphylum Chelicerata (kuh-liss-uh-RAY-tuh) — first described in 1901 by the German zoologist Richard Heymons [1867 – 1943] using the Greek noun χηλη (KEY-lay) = a claw, talon, or hoof + the Greek noun κερας (Ser-as) = an animal’s horn + the Latin suffix ata — which by convention is suffixed to the names of animal subdivisions — to refer to animals that have specialized appendages before the mouth that they use in feeding, capturing and securing prey and that — in the case of spiders — are further equipped to inject venom and digestive agents into their prey;
- Class Arachnida (uh-RAKH-nih-duh) — first described in 1812 by the French naturalist and zoologist Jean Léopold Nicolas Frédéric Cuvier [August 23, 1769 – May 13, 1832], usually referred to as Georges Cuvier, using the Greek noun αραχης (uh-RAH-kes) = a spider, in reference to all eight-legged arthropods, including such disparate animals as ticks, mites, scorpions, harvestmen, solpugids, and spiders;
- Order Araneae (uh-RAY-neh-ee) — first described in 1757 by the Swedish entomologist and arachnologist Carl Alexander Clerck [1709 – 22 July 1765], who used the Latin word aranea = a spider or a spider’s web, to refer to eight legged arthropods that spin webs;
- Suborder Opisthothelae (oh-PIS-thoh-THEE-lee) — first described in 1990 by the American arachnologists Richard C. Brusca and Gary J. Brusca, who used the Greek words οπισθεν (oh-PIS-thehn) = behind, at the back, yet to come + θηλη (THEE-lee) = nipple or teat, to distinguish this grouping of spiders from the more primitive spiders in the suborder Mesothelae, in that certain characters (e.g., tergite plates, ganglia in the abdomen, and — in particular, inasmuch as the suborder name is a direct reference thereto — median-positioned spinnerets) of the latter are absent in the former; thus spiders in this suborder have spinnerets positioned at the hindmost portion of the abdomen;
- Infraorder Araneomorphae (uh-RAY-nee-oh-MOHR-fee) — distinguished from the mygalomorphae by having opposing fangs that open and close perpendicular to the spider body’s longitudinal axis, in a pinching action, whereas, in the mygalomorphae (e.g., tarantulas and trapdoor spiders), which have fangs that open and close more nearly in alignment with the spider body’s longitudinal axis.
- Series Entelegynae (inn-TELL-uh-jiy-nee) — araneomorph spiders which, unlike the Haplogynae, have hardened, i.e., sclerotized, female genitalia. Foelix (2011) points out that “entelegyne spiders have more complex reproductive organs (with an epigyne and separate fertilization ducts in the female)…” and that “Male entelegyne genitalia are very diverse…“;
- Superfamily Salticoidea (saul-tuh-KOY-dee-uh) — a superfamily embracing all the jumping spiders, and comprised of a single family (the Salticidae); according to Norman Platnick’s World Spider Catalog version 13.0, this family presently includes 589 recognized genera and about 5,468 described species, or about 13% of all spider species known; jumping spiders possess excellent vision, which aids in courting mates, hunting prey, and navigating within their environments; these spiders move about with stealth and deliberation, but when threatened or on finding prey are able to perform agile leaps or jumps; they possess a particularly well-developed bimodal respiratory system similar to that of the crab spiders in the Thomisidae family, with one pair of book lungs, complemented by an extensive system of highly-branched tracheal tubes that pervade the prosoma and the extremities (Foelix, 2011); the jumping spiders have a relatively unique eye pattern that appears as four pairs of eyes with extremely large anterior median eyes (AME);
- Family Salticidae (saul-TISS-uh-dee) — first described in 1842 by the English naturalist John Blackwall (1790-1881), using the Latin infinitive saltare = to leap or dance + the Greek patronymic suffix -ιδες (EE-des) used by convention in zoological nomenclature to indicate a family name, in reference to spiders that jump;
- Subfamily Aelurillinae — 9 genera of mostly Old World jumping spiders, with one species (Phlegra hentzi Marx, 1890) that is found in the U.S. and Canada.
- Subfamily Agoriinae (Simon, 1901) — a single genus (Agorius Thorell 1877) of ant mimic jumping spiders, comprised of 7 described and several yet-to-be-described species of jumping spiders found in Sumatra, Borneo, the Philippines, Singapore, New Guinea, New Britain, Java, Lombok, Sulawesi, and Malaysia; both sexes 6-8 mm in length and similar in appearance to the Myrmarachninae, but lacking the large forward-pointing chelicerae typical of the latter, and rather than inhabiting foliage aloft, predominantly living in the leaf litter of the rain forest floor;
- Subfamily Amycinae — 6 genera of jumping spiders widely distributed in Central and South America;
- Subfamily Ballinae — a little-known grouping of salticids whose males possess a specially-spiralled embolus; some are beetle-like or pseudoscorpion-like bark dwellers;
- Subfamily Dendryphantinae (Petrunkevitch, 1928) — mostly New World jumping spiders whose females typically show paired abdominal spots and s-shaped epigynal atria, and whose males often possess enlarged chelicerae;
- Subfamily Euophryinae (Simon, 1901) — 115 genera of widely distributed (worldwide) jumping spiders;
- Subfamily Hasariinae — 3 genera of poorly known jumping spiders;
- Subfamily Heliophaninae (Petrunkevitch, 1928) — mostly Old World subfamily with distinctive leg-carapace stridulatory organ; only Marchena minuta and the neotropical bark-dwellers Helvetia and Yepoella are found in the New World; two characters distinctive to this subfamily are: 1. a stridulatory organ of seta-bearing tubercles on the femur of leg I with corresponding corrugations on the lateral carapace, and 2. a projection on the tegulum covering the embolus;
- Subfamily Hisponinae (Simon, 1886) — common in Madagascar, less so elsewhere in Africa and Asia; distinguished by constrictions near the eyes, which are small; similar to spartaeine-like salticids, often found in Baltic amber;
- Subfamily Lyssomaninae (Hentz, 1884) — eight described genera that are not a part of the Salticoida, to which over 90% of all salticid species belong;
- Subfamily Marpissinae — a little known subfamily of jumping spiders whose placement is in dispute;
- Subfamily Myrmarachninae — a well-established subfamily whose members mimic the size, shape and behavior of ants; some live with ants and prey on other arthropods, others prey on ants; mostly found in Australia and South East Asia;
- Subfamily Pelleninae — mostly ground-dwelling salticids with the holarctic genus Pellenes, the Old World genus Neaetha, and a New World genus Habronattus; Habronattus well known for elaborate and diverse ornaments, and for the courtship rituals performed by males;
- Subfamily Plexippinae — mostly Old World species distinguished by having the embolus immovably fixed to the tegulum; includes the familiar genera Plexippus, Evarcha, Hyllus, and Thyene; distinguished by 1. male endite serrula with the lateralmost teeth curled and projecting; 2. a small projection, or bump, on the tegulum near the base of the embolus, just counterclockwise of the embolus that points clockwise on the left palp; the bump on Heliophanine tegula is positioned differently; 3. tufts of setae near the eyes, similar to those of Phidippus but below the small eyes, between the PME and ALE; in the Phidippus these occur below the PME, between the PME and PLE;
- Subfamily Salticinae — a catch-all subfamily without a set of well-defined distinctions separating it from the other subfamilies;
- Subfamily Spartaeinae (Wanless, 1984) — includes the Boetheae, Cocaleae, Lineae, Codeteae and Cyrbeae, as defined by Eugène Simon; palaeotropical in distribution, exceptionally diverse in the Malaysian and Indonesian archipelagos; similar to the lyssomaninae, in lacking many derived features of the Salticoida; although the Spartaeinae usually have large posterior median eyes, they are reduced in the genera Cyrba, Gelotia and Wanlessia;
- Subfamily Synagelinae — antlike; embolus articulated against a free tegulum; waves the second pair of legs like antennae; occur only in the New World, except for Leptorchestes;
- Subfamily Synemosyninae — ant-like; waves the first legs like antennae; embolus fixed to the tegulum; in many cases where the embolus is long, it curls around the top of the cymbium;
- Subfamily Dendryphantinae (dehn-dree-FAN-tuh-nee) — first described in 1928 by the Russian-born entomologist Alexander Ivanovitch Petrunkevitch (born in Kiev in 1874-died in New Haven, Connecticut in 1964) — who taught at Yale University from 1910 to 1944 — using the Latin noun dens = tooth or prong + the Greek noun δρεπανη (DREE-fann) = a sickle or scythe, to refer to a subfamily of New World jumping spiders whose males often have enlarged chelicerae; some 54 New World genera are included in this taxonomical grouping;
- Genus Bagheera (BOGG-ee-rah) — first described in 1896 by the early American naturalists and teachers George Williams Peckham (1845 – 1914) and his colleague, who later became his wife, Elizabeth Maria Gifford Peckham (1854 – 1940), using the name Rudyard Kipling coined for the black-toned leopard in his widely loved and well-read Jungle Book;
- Species prosper (PROSS-purr) — first described in 1901 by Peckham & Peckham (see above), from a beloved passage in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book known as The Law of the Jungle: “Now this is the Law of the Jungle — as old and as true as the sky; And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die. As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back — For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.”
- Scientific name Bagheera prosper (Peckham & Peckham, 1901)
References (for a list of all my references to scientific literature, including children’s books, click here):
- Barnes, Robert D. 1958. North American Jumping Spiders of the Subfamily Marpissinae (Araneae, Salticidae). American Museum Novitates 1867.
- Beccaloni, Jan. 2009. Arachnids. Univ. Calif. Press.
- Comstock, John Henry. 1912. The spider book: a manual for the study of the spiders and their near relatives. University of Michigan.
- Emerton, James H. 1902. The Common Spiders of the United States. Kindle, hardcopy, and paperback editions.
- Foelix, Ranier F. 2011. Biology of Spiders, Third Ed. Oxford Univ. Press.
- Gertsch, Willis J., 1979. American spiders. Von Nostrand Reinhold Company.
- Herberstein, Marie Elisabeth (Ed.). 2011. Spider Behaviour: Flexibility and Versatility. Cambridge University Press.
- Howell, W. M., and R. L. Jenkins. 2004. Spiders of the Eastern United States: A Photographic Guide. Pearson Edu.
- Jackman, John A. 1999. A Field Guide to Spiders & Scorpions of Texas (Gulf Publishing Field Guide Series). Gulf Press.
- Kaston, B. J. 1978. How to know the spiders (The Pictured key nature series). WCB McGraw Hill.
- Levi, Herbert W., and Lorna Levi. 1987. Spiders and Their Kin (Golden Guide). Golden Press, New York.
- Preston-Mafham, Rod. 1996. The Book of Spiders and Scorpions. Barnes & Noble.
- Ubick, Darrell, and Pierre Paquin, Paula E. Cushing, V. Roth (Editors). 2005, Spiders of North America: An Identification Manual. American Arachnological Society.
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