Eight legs good? Jumping Spiders

31 October 2019 | Posted in Charlotte Owen , spiders
Eight legs good? Jumping Spiders
Jumping Spider ©Chris Bentley

Like many, I’m not a fan of spiders. Yes, they’re ecologically important and their amazing abilities are fascinating but I’ll always be wary of our eight-legged friends. Surely that’s too many legs? Scientists don’t really know why eight is the magic number for spiders. It seems that at some point in their evolutionary history, an arachnid ancestor happened to develop eight legs and this arrangement proved so successful there was no need to change it. Eight legs have proved ideal for typical spider activities, from scuttling to web-weaving and, in some cases, jumping. That sounds like a terrifying prospect but the Jumping Spiders are (thankfully) among the tiniest of our 650 native spider species - and arguably the cutest.

At just a few millimetres long, their rounded bodies, short legs and colourful patterns all combine to increase their natural cute factor, which is almost enough to win anyone over. For those needing greater persuasion, there’s Lucas - a computer-animated jumping spider so adorable that even arachnophobes have been saying ‘aww’. Lucas has lovable larger-than-life eyes and is voiced by a five-year-old child, which definitely helps, but he’s otherwise a fairly realistic representation of a jumping spider, even if he does go skating in the bathroom sink and play hide and seek. Lucas was created to help people love spiders, so a degree of realism was important, and Jumping Spiders do have particularly large eyes. They have eight in total but the front pair is much bigger than the rest, and perhaps this makes them more relatable. Their vision is exceptional and far superior to most spiders, which can only distinguish light from dark, so they are active hunters with no need of a web. Their visual acuity allows them to track down and pounce on their targets with deadly accuracy, leaping up to 14 times their own body length in the process. Favourite prey includes pesky greenfly and mosquitoes, so they provide a valuable natural pest control service. Their excellent eyesight is also put to good use during courtship, when the male performs an elaborate, leg-waving dance routine to woo a potential mate. All things considered, what’s not to love?

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