An Adventure with a Jumping Spider.

I have a 50 foot polythene tunnel in which I grow vegetables and flowers. I do not have the tunnel to myself. A pair of wrens nest in an entanglement of cactus over 20 years old – a-no go area at baby time!

It is not the wrens but jumping spiders that mostly hold my attention while at work in the tunnel. They are there each morning – and I like to think to welcome me in to one more day. Extraordinary agile these black and white spiders can move with surprising speed or stalk their prey with care not surpassed in a cat. They do not spin webs but hunt on the move. Carefully judging distance with two particularly enormous eyes they spring onto the back of their prey whether an insect or another spider. Six smaller eyes give them 360 degrees of vision so it is impossible to approach they  from any direction without they being aware. Believe me I have tried!

An incident that occurred two days ago spurred my respect for these spiders – big time. One had climbed the slippery curved wall of the polythene tunnel and jumping onto a fly killed it on the spot. The fly was as big as the spider. Fine – so far.  What held my interest was how was the spider, now upside down on the skin of the tunnel, to carry his pray down the slippery slope? For several minutes the spider did not move. Then to my astonishment it flung itself from the tunnel wall and dropped like a cat onto an aluminium pole far below him, part of the structure of the tunnel. He was still carrying the fly. For safety reasons zebra spiders will glue a silk thread before jumping. But to achieve what he had done he had to judge carefully the position of the structural pole far below him and do so while he was clinging upside down. He then had to do a somersault in the air to land feet first with the prey still intact in his mouth. Given the tiny size of the spider, that jump would have been about the equivalent of a 1,000 feet drop if it was of human scale! That he could even see that distance down and then accurately judge where to land certainly shot my admiration for these tiny guys way up. Over the several years that I have been watching these spiders I have never before seen such a cat-like display of skill as this.

To be enthralled we don’t need to see a million wildebeest on the move or a 100,000 starlings in an aerial dance. Little guys too can make us stand back a step and wonder about it all. All are precious for what they can bring to our lives.

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