The zebra spider is one of the most common spiders in the world, and is probably the best known amongst the jumping spider family. It can be found in almost every climate and is a common sight in warm weather in and around the home. However there are many traits and behaviours exhibited by the zebra spider, which set it apart from most spiders and make it a most fascinating species to study
Zebra spiders (Salticus scenicus) are so named because of their black and white stripes, similar to that of a zebra. The black and white camouflage in this case is useful because it helps to hide the spider against dark backgrounds and also to predators makes it look like a bird dropping from above. Mainly this is useful because the zebra spider stalks and then jumps on its prey, and so needs to get fairly close to it.
The prey of zebra spiders ranges from ants to mosquitoes, and pretty much everything in between. Although because they must physically subdue their prey they cannot take anything much larger or stronger than themselves, as they are unaided by webs to trap their prey before attacking it. Their usual method of hunting is to get close to prey on the ground by sneaking up to it on an adjacent vertical surface. From there they can pounce and kill their prey very quickly.
Unlike most spiders zebra spiders also have excellent eyesight and because of this aren’t immediately alarmed when they encounter a human. If you were to approach one on a wall rather then fleeing as their first response they are quite happy to observe you unless you actually try to attack or eat them. This is because their eyes perceive things faster then ours, or in fact many animals do. For example if they were to watch TV the images would be too slow for them to perceive as a moving image, giving it the appearance of a slide show.
Compared to most spiders the zebra spider has short legs and a stocky body, which allow it to leap very powerfully and to run extremely fast as well. It is so powerfully built in fact that it can leap up a vertical surface, which is something that few other species can do. This build also means that it is comparatively strong for its size, allowing it to overpower as well as surprise its prey. Many spiders by comparison have to either be a lot larger or rely on the aid of a web to kill their prey.
Normally towards the end of summer some spiders will make their way into the home, mainly because of the warmth. Zebra spiders will rarely make their way inside buildings in the same manner though, as they usually die by the end of the summer. Also the smaller prey species that they usually like to feed on don’t tend to be found inside the home either, and tend to die off at the end of the summer themselves.
Another interesting behaviour that zebra spiders exhibit is that they will readily feed on other spiders. Most web-building spiders have very poor vision, and rely on the vibrations of their web to locate their prey. Because of this the zebra and indeed other jumping spiders, can sneak as close as they need to before striking. Zebra spiders have also been known to purposely touch other spiders webs to entice them over before attacking, which is something that only a few spiders have shown.
Despite their speed and jumping prowess there are still several other insects that will make a meal of the zebra spider on occasion. Centipedes and other larger hunting spiders will on occasion eat zebra spiders, as will ants who happen to catch them on the ground. This isn’t generally a regular occurrence however, because amongst invertebrates they are one of the fastest and certainly have better eyesight than most.