It’s been too long since I’ve been on a major field expedition, more than 3 years. Today I fly to Mexico to begin three weeks in the mountains of Oaxaca and Chiapas with salticidologists (jumping spider experts!) Uriel Garcilazo and Łukasz Trębicki and others interested in arthropods: Ricardo Paredes, José Arturo Casasola, Jorge León, and Gerardo Contreras. Uriel, Łukasz and I will be looking for new species of jumping spiders, with special focus on the genus Mexigonus. There are only a few species of Mexigonus described, but we already know that many more undescribed ones are hiding in the mountains of Mexico.
There are many poorly studied groups of spiders, so why did we choose to focus on Mexigonus? One reason is that it is an evolutionary radiation of the Mexican highlands, its species having diversified among the mountain ranges that fragment the landscape into isolated patches of habitat. Studying the diversity of Mexigonus species and their evolutionary relationships could help us understand the biological history of this region. Another attraction of Mexigonus is the red or orange courtship ornamentation that males of some species have — attractive to the females perhaps, but to us attractive because red ornamentation is not common in salticid spiders. There’s a good chance that most salticids can’t distinguish red (colour blind, in a sense), and so when we find a salticid that can, it could tell us something about the evolution of colour vision.
Our expedition has been supported generously by Tila Pérez, Griselda Monteil, and Ricardo Paredes of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) in Mexico City. We’ll drive first to Oaxaca, where we’ll spend about 10 days collecting, based at Universidad de la Sierra Juárez (UNSIJ) with José Arturo. After that we’ll spend about 10 days in Chiapas, where Jorge León (EcoSur) has been guiding our plans. At the end of the trip we’ll attend the meetings of the American Arachnological Society in Juriquilla being organized by Fernando Alvarez.