The ant that wasn’t

ant-mimicking jumping spider
Crawling on the edge of an outdoor table

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.

The same spider, on my finger

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.

ant-mimicking jumping spider
Profile view of the same spider


One thought on “The ant that wasn’t”

  1. iNaturalist has an astonishingly accurate AI function which guesses the identity of whatever plant or animal the user is uploading to the database. It usually identifies the subject to family level, and often to genus or even species level.
    My ant-mimicking jumping spider, however, baffled it completely: it suggested two kinds of beetle, an ant, and two kinds of wasp.

    screenshot from iNaturalist

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