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the web of life in southern Africa

Family: Salticidae (jumping spiders)

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Ecdysozoa > Panarthropoda > Tritocerebra > Arthropoda > Arachnomorpha > Cheliceriformes > Chelicerata > Euchelicerata > Arachnida > Araneae > Araneomorpha

Commonly called Jumping spiders, the Salticidae are also affectionately referred to as  Charlies, Herbies or Salties. They are very common around the home and their anthropomorphic nature endears them to most people. The family name is derived from the Latin "salto" which means to dance with pantomimic gestures (See mating behaviour below). This is the largest spider family and includes more than 5000 species worldwide. There are 46 genera in South Africa. These spiders are harmless to man although there have been complaints where this comical, engaging animal has been accused of nasty bites.

Salticidae. [image N. Larsen ] Salticid eating a grasshopper. [image N. Larsen ]

This family is easily identified by the 2 large anterior median (front central, like 2 headlights) eyes. These binocular, telescopic eyes can identify detail and colour for up to 20 body-lengths making the spider a very successful hunter. The 6 other eyes detect movement and prey. The 2 wide-angled secondary eyes detect object up to 30-40cms. At about 20cms it turns to face the object, at 8-10cms is able to identify, at 3-4cms it will start to stalk and at 1-2cms the attack is launched.

Salticidae. [image N. Larsen ] Salticidae with "bungee" silk thread attached. [image N. Larsen ]

The various species either walk or jump but the salticids are the bungee jumpers of the spider world. To catch flying prey, they simply attach silk to a substrate and leap into the air. Should they miss a landing site, they simply haul themselves back up the launch site and reuse the bungee. They vary in size, 3 to 17mm and the Cape species rarely exceed 10mm. They are diurnal (daytime) cursorial (running) hunters. Generally, they are squat-bodied with short legs but there are some species that are slender where they mimic certain insects. The legs are not especially muscled for jumping but instead a jump is propelled by an explosive release of hydraulic pressure in the 4 hind legs. Unlike web-bound spider that have 3 claws, the salticids have 2 claws plus a scopulae pad (tuft of hair) that enables to adhere to various surfaces.

The integument (skin) varies from glabrous (hairless) to hirsute (hairy). Depending on the spider species and the animal that is being mimicked, they are often cryptically or attractively patterned.

The male is usually more slender and often looks totally different (sexually dimorphic) in shape and colour. This chapter would be incomplete without a reference to the courtship of these spiders, not only from an interest point of view but it will also explain the Latin derivation of the family name mentioned above. Interesting and amusing studies have been done on mating dances carried out by male spiders which consist of ostentacious and ridiculous weaving and lurching accompanied by waving and signalling with the palps. The antics are sometimes mimicked by the females perhaps as a signal to the male that she has got into the swing of things and is available to mate. Some of the males' repetitive palp movements are thought to mesmerise or hypnotize the female, reducing the risk of attack. The courting male jumping spider must dance before his mistress and it seems that the male makes desperate attempts to impress the female with his dancing repertoire while the female follows every step with critical interest. 



  • AZARKINA, G.N. & LOGUNOV, D.V. 2010. New data on the jumping spiders of the subfamily Spartaeinae (Araneae: Salticidae) from Africa. African Invertebrates 51: 163–182.

Text by Norman Larsen .