Crawlies with Cri: Johnson’s jumper

(Photos by Christy Solo, Illinois Valley News)

Johnson’s jumper (Phidippus johnsoni)

This week we’ll meet a chunky jumper you’ve most likely seen around your yard but haven’t been properly introduced to. Meet the Johnson’s jumper (Phidippus johnsoni).
Johnson’s and the other 76 jumping spider species in the Genus Phidippus are affectionately called “Phiddy’s.”
Johnson’s are the most common Phiddy’s in our area, followed by their cousins bold jumpers (Phidippus audax).
Growing up to one-half inch in length Johnson’s are one of the biggest species of jumping spider (Salticidae). That’s saying a lot when you consider jumpers are the largest family of spiders, with at least 315 species in North America.
Despite their size, don’t panic! Like all jumpers, Johnson’s are of no medical significance to humans. They’re also very good at quickly jumping away from us if they perceive us as a threat. Johnson’s can jump just over five times their body length.
Like all jumping spiders, Johnson’s have exceptionally good eyesight. Most spiders see only light and shadow and movement. Jumper eyes are built in binoculars. They see as well as cats, and better than many humans (humans without their glasses on, or corrective lenses in!)
Johnson’s are quite clever, always taking in their surroundings, looking for a potential meal or threat. Because of their ability to access and escape danger, they’re brave as spiders go and will watch humans with curiosity. You can see in the photos none of the pictured spiders considered me a threat; they’d checked me out and then looked away, even though with my macro lens I was just inches from them.
Jumpers’ bold attitude and overall cuteness are why there are so many macro photos of them.
Female Johnson’s tend to be bolder and more curious; males are more likely to beat a hasty retreat when a “large animal” approaches, despite their vibrant “Don’t mess with me” crimson-colored abdomens.
It’s possible Johnson’s evolved their vivid scarlet hue to mimic velvet ants, a critter everyone wants to avoid. Only male Johnson’s sport the solid red abdomen. Females’ red scales (AKA spider hairs) form more of a U-shape. Young Johnson’s sport shades of orange, metallic gold, cream, tan and white.
As adults Johnson’s also sport dazzling blue-green scales on their chelicerae (mouthparts found on arachnids which either sport fangs, or act as pincers.)
Johnson’s can live up to three years, so soon young and old Johnson’s alike will hunker down into a nice crevasse and hibernate until spring. You might see them out and about on warmer winter days (60°F) catching some sun and arthropods.
Johnson’s are excellent pest controllers. They’ll stalk and capture a wide variety of insects, generally those one-half the size of the jumper or smaller – so one-quarter of an inch – but will take on larger arthropods. Johnson’s will also happily dine on other spider species.
Johnson’s don’t spin webs per se but will make hides for sleeping and overwintering. They’ll make use of an existing crack or crevasse or make nifty leafy dens by curling up a leaf and securing it with their silk.
Females will also make silken dens in which to lay their eggs, then keep watch until the young hatch. Generally females only lay one clutch of eggs per season.
You can find Johnson’s anywhere in your yard, out in the open near the tops of shrubs, tucked into flowers just having a walkabout on any natural or man-made surface looking for an easy insect meal.