While exploring Cheyenne Mountain State Park on June 3, I caught glimpse of a very colorful jumping spider prowling a dead thistle stalk among some branches of scrub oak (Gambel's Oak). My first thought was it must be a male Phidippus of some kind, but I am used to them being a fair bit larger than this one was. Well, I was excited to find out later that it was indeed a male Phidippus insignarius.
The crazy thing is, I was already familiar with that species, thanks to some simply stunning images by Patrick Zephyr and Raed Ammari. I only remembered these head-on pictures, and forgot what the whole spider looked like.
I had also forgotten, or never knew, that P. insignarius is found here in Colorado. Indeed, it ranges from here east through Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, eastern Oklahoma, Missouri, southeast Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, southern New England, New Jersey, Virginia, and North Carolina. Look for it in the understory of open woodlands and prairies. The oak thicket with scattered pines in an otherwise grassland habitat where I found this one seems to be the ideal habitat.
P. insignarius is not a terribly large spider. Mature males average just under 5 millimeters in body length, females 5.45 millimeters. The coloration of the female, from all I can gather, is similar to the male, but without the bright white hairs on the carapace, legs, and palps. Both genders have the bushy "eyebrows" that are characteristic of many Phidippus species.
If you are all ready to go searching for jumping spiders now, consider investing in a "beating sheet," or make your own. A friend of my wife who is an accomplished seamstress, whipped one out for me in no time. We chose a heavy, durable canvas (still prone to deformation with a good stiff breeze), about two feet square. Triangular pockets in each corner receive wooden slats arranged in an "x" pattern with a screw in the center to join them.
The beating sheet is held under the branch of a tree or shrub, and a heavy stick or rod is used to sharply strike the branch. All manner of spiders, and insects, of course, can come raining onto the sheet. This is the best way to collect many cryptic arthropods that are seldom seen otherwise.
Sources: Edwards, G.B. 2004. "Revision of the Jumping Spiders of the Genus Phidippus (Araneae: Salticidae)," Occasional Papers of the Florida State Collection of Arthropods. Volume 11. 156 pp.
Hollenbeck, Jeff. 2007. "Species Phidippus insignarius," Bugguide.net