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Umwelt > Jumping Spiders

There are around 6,000 known species of jumping spiders. They range from 1mm to 25mm (about an inch). They range in color from mostly brown to a rainbow of reflective color. They are found in a huge range of environments, from the tropics to the slopes of Mount Everest. Evolving around 50 million years ago, it is a very successful little critter in its remarkable adaption to changing environments and developing remarkable sensory tools to make that success possible.

Independent of size and color, all jumping spiders have the standard eight legs of all spiders, an abdomen, a head, two "arms" in front, and colorful appendages in the front of the head that house powerful fangs that produce venom to paralyze their prey. Their abdomen and legs are dappled with bristling hairs, and they have eight eyes, yes, eight eyes. With that description, one would not think it, but many people find them "cute," primarily due to their large frontal eyes.

A jumping spider's eyes are only part of its remarkable sensory showcase, and it is a mind-blowing part. As mentioned, they have two large front-facing eyes and three eyes that wrap around each side. These eyes give the spider nearly 360-degree vision around them. They are lensed eyes similar to ours, not some insects' faceted eyes. The three eyes on each side do not see in great detail and have minimal color, but they detect the motion of both prey and predator, and the spider can quickly turn its head and focus the two large frontal eyes on the movement. What the spider then sees is a whole different story. As we do, it has red, blue, and green vision, and ultraviolet as a bonus. They see this colorful abundance in nearly HD crispness.

It wasn't known until recently how and if jumping spiders could hear. They have no ears or ear drums. In an announcement that startled many scientists, it was found that jumping spiders hear with the hairs on their legs and body. The sensitive hairs respond to movements of air that accompany the sound. That is really sensitive hair. They can "hear" sounds from as far away as sixteen feet. Just as incredible is the spider's sense of taste. It has chemical sensors on its feet, which is how it "tastes." It tastes everything it walks on.

The male's mating dance is as remarkable as its senses, and he uses his senses in amazing ways. It is a stylized series of gestures and movements, throwing his long legs in the air and twitching his abdomen. It must be a great dance, and the female approves, or she might eat him. Sometimes, she eats him after mating. It seems that the males of many species will do crazy things for the opportunity of mating.

They rarely build webs but are stalking prey hunters ranging from insects, other spiders, worms, and larvae. They do use the silk they produce for beneficial purposes. They build tents for bad weather, to sleep in, and to winter in. They also often leave a trail of silk behind them to be used as an escape rope to swing away on and also use the silk strand to swing into areas they cannot access in other ways.

Looking back at the sensory information I have given above, I cannot think that an alien could step out of a flying saucer and be more different from these little spiders. Undoubtedly, we know only a fraction of what their sensory experience is. The sensory bubble that jumping spiders live in is their Umwelt. It is their unique world.

"Umwelt, Jumping Spider, 24" X 18", acrylic on glue-sized linen, Mark W McGinnis

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