Portrait of a Jumper.


Jumping spiders are great fun to photograph, expressive as they appear to be. In my limited experience, I get a chance to see them more often in more man-made environments: desks, walls, indoors, and on my pants even. They’re far harder to get a-hold of on a plant or in a bush.

A most opportune time to catch them in the “wild” is when they’re getting set to molt. The disadvantage is that molting often happens at night, with the spiders prepping come late evening, so you need to find ’em by then and keep shooting.

I came across a female Two-Striped Jumper, Telamonia dimidiata earlier in the year. Twitchy little spider that she was, the photograph below is the best I could do before nightfall.

Jumping spider pre-molt

As night fell, the jumping spider found itself a leaf that it liked, and started building a protective web under it.

Telamonia dimidiata

The web was quite tough, and it seemed as if the spider felt really comfortable inside it. While the jumper continued to spin round and round and pace about its little bunker, it also allowed me to go in closer and shoot a lot better.

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I love the texture of Telamonia‘s carapace, and the red stripess running down its length.

Continue reading “Portrait of a Jumper.”

Portrait of a Jumper.

Up on the Wall.


Today we the jumping spider again, the Plexippus paykulli. He’s perched on the wall next to my desk in this one.

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I’ve also tried my hand at a little Photoshop here, playing with the backdrop. (Anyone in Bangalore willing to introduce me to Adobe Lightroom?)

I like paykulli. And saying it too. Especially with a Kannada twang. See you next week, everyone.

Continue reading “Up on the Wall.”

Up on the Wall.

Denim goes well with spiders.


At least once every week, a furtive little spider hops around on my desk, full of nervous energy. At least, I manage to catch him in the act once a week or so. The delightful little fellow is a male “Larger Housefly Catcher“, Plexippus paykulli.

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The only way to catch him on the camera is to literally herd him in towards the lens: I block his forward direction of motion with his other hand, some times hit the surface hard so that he spends at least a second standing still. Jumpy little bugger though, he’ll jump on my hand or on the lens unannounced if he doesn’t get his way.

Also, I don’t know if you can tell, but he’s perched on my jeans in this particular picture. 🙂

I think one of the reasons that Jumping Spiders appear so emotive in the appearances, giving off strong vibes of apparent curiosity and innocence is because of the way their eyeballs work. Unlike vertebrates (and like most of their invertebrate cousins,) their eyeballs are fixed in nature – they cannot move around independent of their heads.

While most other invertebrate eyes have large fields of vision, the Jumping spider eyes have a rather narrow field: which means that they need to turn not just their head but almost their entire body in whichever direction they want to see. And voila. The spider becomes more emotive. 🙂

Hat-Tip to Joseph KH Koh’s lovely A Guide to Singapore Spiders for ID help. It’s the only excellent tropical spider guide that I’ve found till date.

Continue reading “Denim goes well with spiders.”

Denim goes well with spiders.

An ant or two.


Yesterday I’d talked about a spider that disguised itself as a weaver ant, and how I had stumbled on to one without realising at the time. Turns out that the spider is Myrmarachne plataleoides, also known as the Kerengga Ant-like Jumper.

(When you have about 40,000 spider species with over 5,000 of them being jumping spiders, you end up using silly common names like that one.)

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I had spotted a female, and this was way back in January btw. A couple of months ago I’d seen the same near the flower pots some evening, but I didn’t have the camera near me, and the critter disappeared before I could arm myself with one.

Cut to Tuesday evening this week, I noticed something like an ant or two on one of the leaves of a plant growing just in front of my door. It’s evening and after dark, so my eyes almost glanced over it. But my spider sense tingled. 🙂 And then I noticed the webs to one side.

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As it turns out, the male Myrmarachne one-ups the female, not very common in the arachnid world. While the female Myrmarachne resembles a weaver ant, the male resembles TWO! It has adapted itself to resemble a worker weaver ant carrying a smaller ant.

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Most jumping spiders are cute, but this one looks nasty. Even though they are quite timid, really. They mimic the fearsome (and apparently bad-tasting) weaver ants so that they can get by unmolested. They try to be so convincing in their disguise, these jumping spiders rarely jump, except in dire need.

I love the way the name rolls off my tongue, though. Myr-ma-rach-ne. Apparently, that’s ancient Greek for ant and spider: myrmex and arachne. Everything sounds cooler in ancient Greek. If only we can decipher Linear A some day.

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Continue reading “An ant or two.”

An ant or two.

Sheep in wolf’s clothing.


A long time ago, I’d made a mention of the Weaver Ants, with a vague mention of their ruthless ways. Nasty, belligerent creatures always ready to bite, I’d have to admit that they’re quite clever as well. I am yet to see some of their best work in person, but together they can build living bridges, pull up large leaves and twigs to build their own lairs, all the while looking damnably smug.

Weaver ants.

Alone they are far from invincible, but in rank they are quite imperial in their abilities. Last winter, my backyard had a variety of critters, all occupying little nooks and corners of their choice. Some were partial to the remnants of a curry leaf tree, some lived on the trunk of coconut trees, and others stuck to the ground.

Almost all of them disappeared once the weaver ants started making inroads. The ants went after cobwebs, into crevices in the wood, into every hidey hole that other critters were seeking refuge in. Between the ants and the coming summer, all other critters in my backyard dwindled or disappeared altogether. That’s one of the reasons why you may not have seen any recent posts from my backyard.

Below you can see one denizen being carted away by a squad of weaver ants. They are quite gifted in their skill at teamwork, to transport an insect much larger and heavier than themselves, and on a wire, no less. They would quickly roll over to the far side of the cable if I went in closer with my camera. And all the while, they did it with a flair and an ease that would cause envy even amongst the finest furniture movers.

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There are a few long cables and nylon ropes that run along the length of my backyard, and I’d often find many varieties of ants scurrying across its length. On one day I found one that was a bit slower than the usual, not quite as furtive, and more accomodating of my camera.

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It’s only after I started looking at the photographs on my computer did I realise that something didn’t feel right. The ant felt wrong in some ways. The colour was a bit off, and there was something about the eyes and the shape of the body that didn’t quite add up.

Only then I realised that this was no ant, but a spider! And a very clever one at that. Waving about its two front legs like antennae, the spider moved only on six legs. Its body structure also felt a little warped as it had adapted the usual head-thorax-abdomen arrangement of a spider to the four-part body of an ant.

One lucky shot of the “ant” amidst the cables confirmed it. Of all possible things, this was yet another jumping spider!

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The rest I’ll talk about on the morrow. 🙂

Continue reading “Sheep in wolf’s clothing.”

Sheep in wolf’s clothing.

Curiosity did not kill the jumper.


Good morrow, gentle folk.

I thought I’d elaborate on what I was talking about back on Wednesday eve. Jumping spiders are truly tough to beat in any posing contest amongst critters. I think that comes in part because of the size of their primary two eyes, which are large enough to throw up reflections of their surroundings. Think anime eyes and their exaggerated expressions.

The other part is their apparent curiosity. Again, this is connected to their large eyes. Jumping spiders, like most other spiders, have a LOT of eyes – usually six or eight. Now, all but two of these are fairly rudimentary in function: some can only make out light and shadow, others some minimal detail.

The two primary eyes (called Anterior Medial eyes, for those interested) are quite something else, though. One of the best set of eyes in the invertebrate world, the eyes are telescopic in nature, recording an extraordinary amount of detail. The eyes also have four different kinds of receptor cells, giving them the ability to perceive four distinct colours (humans, in comparison, have only three different types,) giving them a visible range stretching from near UV to the near IR spectrum.

The apparent curiosity of theirs comes in because of this: their tiny little brains take a second or more to process all the incredibly rich visual information that comes their way, so they often stay still in that time.

The usual experience of a photographer with a jumping spider (that’s not too jumpy) usually goes like this: You approach the spider; the spider “takes cognizance” of you and quickly turns to look at you; the doe eyes stay focused on you for a few seconds; if you move or go closer, the spider usually jumps backwards while continuing to face you; you click some more pictures.

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That may not sound like much in print, but that’s pretty awesome for a photographer. ^_^

Continue reading “Curiosity did not kill the jumper.”

Curiosity did not kill the jumper.