How I ended up with pet jumping spiders

People are often surprised that I have pet spiders. They are often even more surprised to find they aren’t tarantulas, the most common type of spider people keep as pets. They are often more than just surprised, sometimes they are horrified or mystified.

But there are more than a few people that have told me they have come to like or at least hate spiders less because of the photos I post often of my family of spiders. That makes me really happy.

A Magnolia jumper (Creative Commons)

I started keeping spiders as a bored child playing outside in Georgia. My favorites there were the Magnolia jumping spiders, bright green spiders with silly red hats. I didn’t think about them for a long time until one day I saw one peering out at me from the weeds besides the Metra tracks. I snapped a picture and posted it on Instagram.

The spider by the Metra tracks

When I got home I absentmindedly started trying to figure out what species it was, and found myself on a Facebook group devoted to jumping spiders.

In case you don’t know, jumping spiders are more than just spiders that jump, they are also defined by their front-set well-developed eyes. Eyes that allow them to stalk prey like tiny cats rather than having to build webs and wait for prey to get caught in them. This also seems to have gone along with their relatively enhanced abilities to learn. As one paper puts it:

Weasels may be cunning, we might admire the intelligence of dogs and cats, but we can be forgiven for expecting the jumping spider, a diminutive predator with a brain not much bigger than a poppy seed, to be one of Descartes’ automatons. Yet, jumping spiders, also known as salticids, alternate between entertaining and alarming us by planning prey-capture tactics ahead of time, adjusting their hunting behaviour in accordance with how the prey responds and giving us other examples of un-spider-like acumen.

It’s worth remembering that spiders are an incredibly diverse order and jumping spiders have about as much in common with a spider like a black widow as we do with a primate like a marmoset. So if you hate spiders because you are afraid of black widows it’s like thinking humans can’t be smart because marmosets aren’t.

“Tabby” a Phidippus audax

The first spider I kept since I was a child was a Phiddipus audax, a common species called the “bold” jumping spider. Tabby, named after a late family cat, was anything but bold. She was skittish and elderly, showing common signs of age in jumping spiders such as inability to climb vertical surfaces. She didn’t really jump much, if you gave her a fly she’d reluctantly hop a bit to catch it.

I set her up in a terrarium with plenty of surfaces she could climb to get to the top, where she preferred to hang out. She laid a few egg sacs but they never hatched.

I also acquired a Phiddipus Otiosus/Regius hybrid from Phids.net, that I also named after a late cat, my beloved calico Bitty, who had similar coloration. Through the Facebook group I acquired a large family of Hyllus diardi, a tropical species that is considered one of the largest known jumping spiders.

Unfortunately after about a year Tabby passed away. Towards the end she could no longer hunt and I would feed her pre-killed crickets. I was sad to see her go, but at that point I had plenty of spiders. Right now I have eight and I’m pretty sure that’s enough.

As far as little pets go, they are pretty easy to care for. The most difficult set up I have is for the tropical ones, who require some extra heat in the form of heating pads and lighting. In the summer they are more than happy with any old fly you can find outside and in the winter they get wingless fruit flies and crickets purchased from the pet store.

“Mad Max” a Hyllus diardi juvenile. He was always bigger and more curious and aggressive than his siblings.

So in my experience they are much easier to care for than something like fish, where the water has to be just right. And they are about the same level of interactivity. Meaning they aren’t cuddly, but they each have their own interesting unique personalities that affects the way I interact with them.

“Skitty” an adult Hyllus diardi

I find the ones I raised from juveniles like Bitty are the most “tame.” Tame meaning they don’t think you are going to eat them every time you open the door to their terrarium. Though given the obvious size differences between humans and these little spiders, they are always going to be a bit timid to some degree. And they will remember things you’ve done that they don’t like.

“Bitty” a Phidippus otiosus/regius hybrid, chilling in her nest.

For example Bitty usually doesn’t leave her little nest until around 9 a.m. So every morning before I’d go to work I’d mist her terrarium and she’d come out later and drink from the droplets. But one morning I forget the clocks had changed due to daylight savings time. One interesting spider fact is they don’t follow daylight savings time. So I opened the door and misted and quickly realized I’d misted her! She looked a bit agitated — most jumping spiders seem to have the same hatred of water that cats do. Ever since then if she hears the door open she hides, which is a bit sad to me.

Some people think I attribute a bit too much personality to them than maybe they are capable of, but I think people do that whether it’s cats or spiders. And I from what I’ve seen, science shows that these little creatures do have personality. Each one I’ve raised and cared for is unique.

Of course people ask me if they are poisonous. No, not poisonous, but all spiders produce venom, which they inject into their prey. There are no jumping spiders that have venom potent enough to cause trouble for humans. There is absolutely no reason to hate or be afraid of them, especially since they eat many pest insects.

Spiders probably aren’t the best pets for everyone, but for me I find them fascinating every single day and I feel lucky to have them in my life.

If you want to learn more about jumping spiders as pets I’ve created a Facebook group and a website with care information

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