24 September 2012

Spotlight on the genus Phidippus

   Our spotlight genus this go round is the loveable and charismatic Phidippus.  This genus is one of the more commonly photographed jumping spiders due to their large size (1cm or larger is not uncommon), often ornate coloration, and generally curious disposition.  

 The Phidippus genus encompasses at least 60 different species, including several that are often used in behavioral studies.  For example, my research primarily focuses on the foraging and learning behaviors of Phidippus audax.  

Phidippus audax from Bugguide.net

 Other commonly studied species include P. clarus, P. johnsoni, and P. princeps.  While most of the work on this genus consists of natural history descriptions out of Dr. Robert Jackson's lab,  much of the more recent work has been conducted by Dr. Beth Jakob’s lab where the focus is on vision and visual processing. 

File:Phidippus clarus female 01.jpg
Phidippus clarus from Wikipedia.org
File:Kaldari Phidippus johnsoni female 03.jpg
Phidippus johnsoni  from Wikipedia.org

Phidippus princeps from Bugguide.net

Phidippus are unusually bulky for salticids, giving them the appearance of being rather short-legged.  Unlike some of their more slender cousins, Phidippus often remind me of tiny tanks when they are cruising around in search of a prey item.  While they are still quite capable of pouncing on potential prey items, they tend to do so from a distance of only 1-2 body lengths, rather than the 4+ body lengths a Habronattus or Lysomannes might jump.  

black and white jumping spider - Habronattus agilis - male
Habronattus agilis from Bugguide.net

One of the defining features of Phidippus are their iridescent chelicerae.  This unique character makes field identification of this genus considerably easier than some of their more cryptic cousins.  In addition to aiding in id, they are also very colorful and can be red, orange, green, blue, and even purple!

Phidippus audax chelicerae by Thomas Shahan

Like virtually all salticids, they are cursorial (wandering hunters) and do not spin webs for prey capture.  As such, you may catch a glimpse of these tiny predators on the hunt.  As Robert Jackson says, the often look like “tiny eight-legged cats” when on the prowl.
Finally, if you see one of these spiders, I highly recommend you take a minute or two and watch their behaviors; they could even be watching you!

Happy watching!