Les Harrison is the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director
Regal is a word used to describe kings, queens and other general nobility. The word itself conjures an air of sophistication and royalty. There is one such inhabitant which frequents our area that is described as regal, though it is not what one would expect.
Though it may not have flowing robes or a jewel-encrusted crown, the native jumping spider (pictured to the left) is referred to as the Regal jumping spider, and, like scorpions, it is more charming than one may think.
This salticid, a member of the Saltididae family, defies many of the commonly held perceptions of spiders.
Jumping spiders do not construct webs to ensnare their victims. Waiting patiently in a motionless state for a potential meal to carelessly become entangled in spider silk is not in this arachnid’s nature.
Instead it actively hunts prey during the day and is often seen moving vigorously in the chase for the next morsel. When everything is aligned perfectly, it pounces on its luckless victim.
Even though jumping spiders do not construct webs to capture prey, they do produce and use silk for several purposes. Hunting spiders trail a dragline behind them to control their decent in case they miss the target on a jump.
The technique is much like a mountaineer who repels down the side of a slope. The jumping spiders can scurry back up the line far quicker than a human at the end of their rope.
Silken nests, elliptical in shape, are structures with an access opening at each end. The local jumping spiders use these for lodging at night, a safe molting site, and egg-laying by the females.
Juveniles commonly make their nests in rolled leaves, while subadults and adults frequently make their nests along the inner mid-veins of palm fronds. Adult males often cohabit with subadult and occasionally adult females.
Females will lay up to four batches of eggs with the first batch averaging over 180 eggs, but the number of eggs declines with each successive batch. If a female survives to produce the four batches of eggs she can generate over 700 eggs, and potentially new jumping spiders.
Aside for their propensity for hurdling, this group of spiders are relatively easy to identify. They have three rows of eyes which are very useful when hunting or avoiding hunters with a taste for spiders.
The jumping spider is the single largest spider family with 5,000-plus members. Fossil records and amber encasements indicate they have ancestors back to the Eocene Epoch about 50 million years ago.
The jumping spider most frequently encountered in Florida is Phidippus regius. This species is aptly named in terms of its size, as it is the largest jumping spider in eastern North America and is also found in the southeastern U.S., the Greater Antilles and the Bahamas.
Averaging slightly over half an inch in length, it dwarfs many of its cousins. While they may be more diminutive, the smaller varieties are just as animated.
The different color combinations of this spider mimic the rainbow, but there is one universal similarity. They are always jumping towards their next meal.
For more information on our super-sized Regal jumping spider, click here for the EDIS publication.
To learn more about jumping spiders and other friendly insects (as well as not-so-friendly ones), contact your UF/IFAS Wakulla Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco/