Article and images by Dr Julie O'Connor, senior conservation partnerships officer, Sunshine Coast Council
3 things you may not have known about lynx spiders
Lynx spiders are cursorial hunters (foraging without a web) that have evolved to specialise for a life on plants. Their distinctive hexagonal eye arrangement and the relatively large erect spines on their legs make them fairly easy to recognise, although identifying to species level is a little more difficult. While only 19 lynx spiders in 4 genera have been described in Australia, it is thought there could be as many as 60 species across the country.
With excellent eyesight, the lynx spiders hunt primarily by day but have also been observed hunting nocturnally. They are ambush hunters, with a ‘sit, wait and pounce’ style, one of the techniques also used by their feline namesakes. As with any species we turn our gaze to, the lynx spiders are full of surprises.
1. Nectar eaters
While we generally think of lynx spiders as carnivores, actively hunting and feeding entirely on other arthropods, this is actually not always the case. Lynx spiders (oxyopidae), and some others, also consume nectar. While nectar ingestion can occur incidentally when they prey on nectarivorous insects, some spiders have deliberately cut out the middle man to seek the offerings from an additional trophic level. By doing so, they are tapping into an energy rich food source without the energy expenditure or risk associated with hunting live prey.
2. Dedicated mothers
Some female lynx spiders guard their egg sacs and hatched offspring for up to eight weeks until the young disperse. While the primary reason for egg-guarding is likely to be protection from predators, they have also been observed releasing offspring from the egg sac when it is time for the spiderlings to emerge. One study documented vigorous defence of eggs from potential predators ranging from killing, biting, flicking predators away, and/or relocating the egg sac. However, interestingly, the same study noted that the green lynx spider Peucetia viridans failed to recognise when the egg sac had been parasitised by mantid lacewings. They continued to guard sacs for the normal duration and appeared to not recognise the interloper either as a white cottony cocoon or fully developed larvae, despite the stark visual difference between the green larvae and what should have been orange spiderlings.
3. Capacity to learn and remember chemical cues
While it has been known for some time that spiders use learned chemical cues to find potential mates, researchers have also found that lynx spiders (and others) use chemical cues to decide which patch they will settle in. Lynx spiders collected in the field and transferred to a laboratory showed a distinct patch preference for those that carried the scent of the grasshopper Schistocerca obscura. However, lynx spiders reared in the laboratory with no previous exposure to the S. obscura showed no such preference for any particular patch.
The above observations are just a few of the unusual behaviours recorded by spider researchers. With the lynx spiders fairly widespread in the warmer northern half of Australia, plenty of opportunity exists for you to make your own discoveries. And, with potentially many lynx spiders yet to be described in Australia, next time you see one of these skittish little spiders, take a closer look. It might even be a new species.
- Fink, L.S., 1987. Green lynx spider egg sacs: sources of mortality and the function of female guarding (Araneae, Oxyopidae). Journal of Arachnology, pp.231-239
- Nyffeler, M., 1996. Spiders as biological control agents in cotton plantations in Texas. Habilitation Thesis, University of Bern, Switzerland
- Punzo, F. and Kukoyi, O., 1997. The effects of prey chemical cues on patch residence time in the wolf spider Trochosa parthenus(Chamberlin)(Lycosidae) and the lynx spider Oxyopes salticus Hentz(Oxyopidae). Bulletin of the British Arachnological Society, 10(9), pp.323-326
- Taylor, R.M. and Pfannenstiel, R.S., 2008. Nectar feeding by wandering spiders on cotton plants. Environmental Entomology, 37(4), pp.996-1002
- Whyte, R. and Anderson, G., 2017. A field guide to spiders of Australia. CSIRO PUBLISHING.