I didn’t really care much nor know much about jumping spiders until I saw this YouTube video.
And then I really wanted a jumping spider.
My plan unfolded one summer day when I was particularly bored and realized I could make a nifty little spider terrarium out of the plastic snack mix container I’d just emptied. I put some dirt in the bottom of the container and stuck a broken conch shell in for aesthetic. Then I went to PetSmart and bought some crickets, cricket food, a plastic tuft of grass, and a little squirt bottle because Google said jumping spiders like damp environments. My habitat was complete – all I needed now was the spider.
Catching a jumping spider is easier said than done, and not just because they’re… jumpy. Despite their gorgeous exoskeletons that make me think God hand-paints every one, jumping spiders are quite small and shy. One site said to wave a stick over tall grass until you saw a spider jump, but that got old real fast.
After a long afternoon of finding absolutely zero spiders of any species, I returned home in defeat – and then my brother spotted a jumping spider on our ceiling!
Because of his red face and brown body that reminded me of a mandrill (he looked a lot like this), I decided to name my new jumping spider Rafiki. Rafiki wasted no time getting adjusted to his new home: he ran around the soil, climbed up and down the plastic grass, and thoroughly examined the conch shell before suddenly deciding to leap off the top of it. At least he took safety precautions: jumping spiders use their webbing as a bungee-cord to make their leaps more precise, and to catch themselves if a jump goes awry. Rafiki was a bit disappointed to find that the walls were too wet to climb, but it was either climbable walls or a damp terrarium, and I had to trust Google that dampness was for the best.
The next morning I thought I had lost Rafiki, but it turned out he had constructed his web in a little hiding spot between the conch shell and plastic grass. Jumping spiders pounce on their prey rather than catching them in webs, but they do still use webs as sleeping places. A few hours later I became extremely concerned that he had died when I thought I saw him lying motionless on the ground in a sickly position, but then I spotted another spider giving me a confused look from the conch shell and realized I’d been worrying over Rafiki’s recently-shed exoskeleton.
Like I said, Rafiki wasted no time making that terrarium home.
Despite the joys of watching Rafiki climb around and losing to him in staring contests, there was one particularly unfortunate aspect of caring for my arthropod pal that was even worse than him leaving his dirty clothes on the ground: feeding him. Rafiki can’t help that he eats insects, but the crickets I bought also couldn’t help looking so cute.
Those crickets got up to some antics of their own, which I’ll save for next week’s post, but they still seemed so small and innocent and undeserving of being spider food. I thought I could handle it if I just dropped a cricket in the terrarium and didn’t watch, but apparently the cricket was too big or Rafiki is super picky, because at the end of the day the little insect was still alive and kicking. I felt super bad that I hadn’t put any food in there with it, but then again I’d expected Rafiki to have caught it at least within a few hours. Instead, the next day there was a dead, uneaten cricket lying on the ground below Rafiki’s web, but his abdomen was still quite skinny and evidently empty.
Did the cricket just spontaneously die? Did Rafiki kill it and then decide he didn’t want it? We may never know.
After placing a second cricket in the cage that afternoon and seeing that it was still hopping around the next morning, I realized I was going to have three dead arthropods on my hands if I didn’t act fast. So, with a heavy heart, I took Rafiki’s terrarium outside and released him and the cricket into my backyard. I was sad to see him go, but I’m sure he knows how to take care of himself a lot better than I did. Who knows, maybe he even found love somewhere amongst the plants of my mom’s garden.
That’s something I would have liked to see. They may keep their rooms messy, but jumping spiders know how to be gentlemanly when it counts. The most famous of jumping spider mating rituals is probably that of the peacock spider, but all jumping spider species will dance and even sing to capture the hearts of females. It’s absolutely adorable.
All in all, my time with Rafiki was quite enjoyable, and I wouldn’t mind owning a jumping spider again now that I know what I’m getting myself into. In case you want to have a pet jumping spider of your own, here are some good tips for getting started! Depending on where you live, however, you may need to wait until the weather’s a little warmer. Jumping spiders live almost everywhere, but they are a bit more active when it’s not super cold out.
Wherever you are, Rafiki, I hope you’re happy. I hope all my crickets are faring well, too – but that’s a story for next week.