A most beautiful jumping spider: Habronattus decorus

16 May 2014 by Christopher Buddle, posted in Behaviour, Spiders

Earlier this week I was (again!) in awe of Sean McCann's photos, and in this case, some images of a charming little jumping spider caught my eye: Habronattus decorus. This small spider (between 5-10 mm) is found throughout much of North America. I would have to admit that this is a species that in part got me 'hooked' on Arachnology (although I've previously written that my favourite species is an ant-mimicing jumping spider). When I was an undergraduate, Dr. Steve Marshall (at the University of Guelph) took me sampling for a weekend, and we happened upon a male H. decorus sunning itself, hopping around, and being delightful (Steve took a photo of that male, and it appears on page 605 of his incredible book). I was truly in awe of this little spider: the way it moved and its coloration.  It's not the most strikingly brilliant of the jumping spiders, but there's something really special about the way the male's rosy/copper-coloured abdomen shimmers and contrasts perfectly with his cephalothorax. There's something so perfect about its tininess, its overall habitus, its incredible 'face' and eyes.

Habronattus decorus (photo by Sean McCann)

Habronattus decorus (photo by Sean McCann)

Thankfully, the species has been videotapped also, and you can really enjoy the way it moves, its expressiveness and its behaviour.  I know the internet is all crazy for the peacock spiders of Australia, but I think Habronattus decorus is just as amazing.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it's been known for a long time (first describe in 1846), and the Peckhams wrote about its awesome courtship behaviour in the late 1800s, in their publication "Observations on sexual selection in spiders of the family Attidae". Here's some of what they wrote:

The male, a magnificent fellow, when we first caught him, displayed for a long time before the female. He began by advancing a few inches toward her and then backing off again, this being repeated many times. After a while he settled down under a little web in the corner. The female, troubled by this indifferent treatment, advanced toward him; he came out and she fell back. This play was kept up for some time...

From Peckham & Peckham (1889)

From Peckham & Peckham (1889)

When within a few inches of her he began a rapid dance from side to side, raising the whole body high on the tips of the legs, the first pair being directed forward and the palpi clasped together, with the abdomen turned to one side and lifted up. After a short dance he stood motionless, striking an attitude, as shown in the figure, remaining quiet for half a minute. Then he turned his back on her, moving irregularly about with his legs forward and his palpi vibrating. Again he dances sideways before her, strutting and showing off like a peacock, or whirling around and around.

Holy heck!  Like a peacock!  Indeed, I think this lovely little jumping spider is the peacock spider for North America.

It's the little things that matter. The small spiders are out there right now. They are wandering around, meeting each other, courting and mating, and we mostly don't pay them much attention. I think it's worth taking a pause every now and then to think of them and to recognize the beauty of natural history and evolution. Habronattus decorus is really a charming little jumping spider and the species has influenced my life and my career. My hope is that you also find a little bit of beauty and fascination in these itsy-bitsy spiders.

 

Habronattus decorus (photo by Sean McCann)

Habronattus decorus (photo by Sean McCann)

 

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