A Wall of Neon Lites: Update to “Apologies to a Spider”

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about my dismay in losing a special specimen, a tiny tiny striped jumping spider that escaped in my hotel room. I regretted losing the chance to make the species better known. Well, we have an update.

A few days before leaving Singapore, we went back to the same area to look for more. After several frustrating hours, I found another specimen of the tiny striped thing. Not just one, but three, in the same shake of some ferns. Over the next few hours, we homed in on the habitat, and could predictably find more. This is one on my beating sheet:

My finger pointing to an adult male Neon sumatranus on my beating sheet.

Here’s where they live. In the forest are occasional small sunny clearings, possibly where a tree has fallen, and these clearings are choked with ferns. The ferns rise upward along the trees facing the clearing, forming walls of lush fern-ness. Underneath, in the tangle of stems at the base of these rising ferns, is moist leaf litter suspended just above the ground. The tiny striped spiders seem abundant in that leaf litter, and at least in the morning, up among the green ferns themselves.

Where Neon sumatranus lives

Kiran and I found several males and several females, and we knew we had everything that we needed to characterize them. As soon as we got back to the lab, I looked at a male under the microscope to figure out what it was, and got a surprise: we don’t need to do the basic characterization, because it’s already been done. It’s a known species.

 

Not only is the species known, but it’s closely related to a species I grew up with in Canada, Neon nelli. The tiny striped thing is Neon sumatranus, described by Dmitri Logunov in 1998, from Sumatra and Borneo. How could I not have recognized it as a Neon? Well, all of the Neon species I’d seen in the past are “bigger” (i.e. 2.5 mm instead of 1.5 mm), and with characteristic black and brown colours. Neon sumatranus is quite unusual among Neon for its super small size and its stripes.

The other thing that kept Neon from my mind is that I think of them as temperate zone creatures, being best described from Europe, northern Asia, and North America. This is not the correct way to think about them, however, as phylogenetic evidence and unpublished explorations suggest that Neon is actually an Australian group that has dispersed around the globe. So, finding it in southeast Asia shouldn’t have been a surprise to me.

I’m not disappointed that it is a known species, and that I was needlessly upset at losing the first male specimen. That upset provoked me to introspect, which was useful. And while it was known, it was barely known, as is the case for most of the world’s species. Now, we can learn more about it. And, they are *so cute*. Here’s a video of a male. Remember he’s 1.4 mm long.

As one of the smallest jumping spiders, it challenges us to explain how it can pack the sophisticated visual system of salticids into such a small head. Vision biologists want to know the answers to such questions. Now that we know how to find Neon sumatranus predictably in the ferns of Singapore, we have a chance to study their tiny tiny eyes.

1 thought on “A Wall of Neon Lites: Update to “Apologies to a Spider”

  1. Wonderful article! I chanced upon your Youtube channel after I googled why are jumping spiders so cute. Hope you can post more on Youtube and share your finds there!

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