Today’s installment of Nature in Your Backyard is from our friendly neighborhood spider enthusiast, Christine Brown, a graduate student at NC State.
Look who stopped by to say “Happy Birthday!”
So exclaimed my friend Lauren Nichols as she burst through my office door Monday, holding a small jar with a large spider inside. You probably know Lauren as the School of Ants guru and Your Wild Life’s latest and greatest nature photographer. Monday was her birthday and Nature presented her with an awesome little gift while she sat on a bench outside our building at NC State: the canopy jumping spider (Phidippus otiosus), so named because they’re found romping amidst pine and oak branches.
It’s getting rare to see invertebrates outside this time of year; most spiders are hunkering down in the leaf litter for the winter. The canopy jumping spider however, breeds in the late fall and is on the prowl for love. This little lady has a love of dancers and, like Birds of Paradise, males will perform complicated routines of jumping, arm twitches, and leaf thumping while females watch with a critical eye (often while munching on a tasty snack provided by the male, called a nuptial gift). Males put in work as fathers as well; females will make an egg sac at the base of tree, then males guard the egg sac until the hatchlings emerge.
The bird analogy isn’t that far off; they’re often strikingly colorful (note the iridescent chelicerae in Lauren’s picture) and have puppy-dog eyes that can gaze into your soul. Those eyes also make them incredible hunters; they rely on vision to identify prey from a distance and can leap five times their body length to capture unsuspecting flies. If I could do that, that would mean jumping almost 30 feet from a standstill!
For Lauren, seeing this cute, fuzzy, non-venomous spider was a welcome gift. She was a vibrant dash of color, curiosity, and charm. While most invertebrates have died off or gone into diapause to sleep the winter away, this canopy jumper was looking for someone to dance with.
Christine Brown is a graduate student at NC State, working with Dr. Nick Haddad. She has the dream job of a 5-year-old: wandering around beautiful meadows to catch spiders. As a conservationist, she studies spiders to find out if wildlife corridors can save threatened predators.