Sitting in the back garden yesterday, I glanced down to see an ant wandering along the edge of my table – or so I thought. But it wasn’t moving like an ant: they are purposeful, even if we may not divine their purposes, and this maybe-not-an-ant was wandering rather slowly and aimlessly. At a closer look, its antennae weren’t very convincing, either: they didn’t come from the front of the head, and they didn’t have the ants’ characteristic elbows.
A still closer look, through the macro lens, showed that it was in fact a jumping spider: the ‘antennae’ were its other two legs and those big forward-facing eyes are a giveaway for Salticidae, the Jumping Spiders.
Since we know what it was doing and which family it belongs to, we can (correctly) identify it as an ant-mimicking jumping spider. With the help of A Field Guide to Spiders of Australia, we can go further and call it Myrmarachne helensmithae, and know that it’s a male because the females don’t have the outsize jaws; also that’s it’s one of many species of Salticidae which mimic many different species of ants.
I have been aware of them for about six years but they are still pretty special, since I only see one or two per year. Or perhaps I should say I only notice one or two, since it’s quite likely that I look straight past a few, mistaking them for ants as, of course, all potentially threatening creatures are meant to do.