Magnolia Green Jumper (Lyssomanes viridis) Walckenaer  1837

Bastrop County, TX

Thanks to Rachel B. for this tantalizing, precocious photograph, taken with a Sony digital camera, model DSC-H9.

Rachel B. sent this photograph as an afterthought, along with several others, most of the latter of excellent quality and near-perfect focus.  My first inclination was to discard it, but something from the past gave me pause. In the 1960's, while slaving away as a photographic interpreter, I analyzed images produced by radar, low light level television, and infrared scanning equipment. Aided by slide-rules, calipers, and stereomicroscopes, often toiling into the wee hours of the night, I coaxed gobs of information from hopelessly fuzzy media. Rachel's green spider image is certainly of no lesser quality, so I decided to grant it the scrutiny and appreciation it deserved.

What, then, might this curious green blob be? Having eight legs (look closely, they do number eight), it's a spider, not an insect. Each appendage is lightly colored, with regularly spaced dark striations, and extends from a bright green body whose small circular carapace is dominated by a head surrounded on both sides and posteriorly by a horseshoe-shaped thorax. An elongated abdomen sports a longitudinal dorsal stripe and a series of small, dark, lateral spots. And it was found in Bastrop County, Texas.

Only the magnolia green jumper (Lyssomanes viridis), found in the southeastern United States as far west as Texas, and in Central and South America,  has these qualities combined in a single specimen. It has several other interesting qualities as well, but none can be verified in this photo. We should await a better image of the species to elucidate further on its anatomy, with two exceptions.

At one time, this spider was classified in its own family, Lyssomanidae. In fact, B. J. Kaston's book "How to Know the Spiders" (3rd Ed., 1978), listed it that way on page 265. Here Kaston notes that the chelicerae of the female are vertical (and thus are not unusually prominent), but the male's chelicerae extend outward, horizontally, as far as the carapace is long. This is an interesting form of sexual dimorphism that is shared by other members of the Salticidae--the jumping spiders--where Lyssomanes viridis now resides, taxonomically speaking. Judging by the lack of conspicuous chelicerae projecting forward of the carapace in this photo, we should presume Rachel's specimen to be a female. Kaston also notes that the female measures 7-8mm in length, or a bit less than a third of an inch. The male is but 5-6mm, less than a quarter of an inch. Being so small a spider, and of a translucent green that blends with the leaves on which it forages, it is easily overlooked. According to successful collectors, it is found in low bushes, usually on the undersides of their leaves.

The genus Lyssomanes was named by Nicholas Marcellus Hentz, in 1845.  Born in Versailles, France on 25 July 1797, Hentz emigrated to the United States in 1816, where he became an accomplished entomologist specializing in arachnids.  During that career he wrote the initial descriptions of 124 new species, including the yellow sac spider (Cheiracanthium inclusum) and the southern house spider (Kukulcania hibernalis), but not Lyssomanes viridis, whose discovery and subsequent description in 1837 fell to Baron Charles Athanase Walckenaer (1771-1852), a French civil servant and scientist. The generic name Lyssomanes is derived from a Greek adjective for "raving mad". The species name, viridis, is from the third declension of the Latin veride, "green". Thus Lyssomanes viridis describes a green spider that behaves as though insane.  I am told the description is apt.

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Did this taunting, though miniscule piece tempt your interest in arachnology? I pray it did. Ignorance about our arachnid friends--they are, in the main, rather beneficial, not the enemies most of us imagine them to be--is gargantuan. Rather than discouraging you, that fact should make you want more than ever to get involved in helping us fill in the gaps and make strides forward in our understanding and knowledge. The field is still wide open, quite contrary to what you may have previously believed. Step forward, walk in Rachel's footsteps, and do something positive that cranks our knowledge upward. If you happen across a spider in North America, please photograph your discovery and send me copies of your photos. Whenever possible, every inquiry is answered immediately--I try to answer every email inquiry within minutes of reading it, and every telephone inquiry is answered on the spot, as most (alas, some emails do fall through the cracks from time to time) who make the effort to commune with me will testify.

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