Why are some jumping spiders so colorful?

University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
DOI: 10.18258/3174
Raised of $6,700 Goal
Funded on 11/26/14
Successfully Funded
  • $7,357
  • 109%
  • Funded
    on 11/26/14

About This Project

Male jumping spiders are often extremely colorful, but the function of this color diversity is not well understood because spiders measured to date appear to lack true color vision. We recently discovered that Habronattus jumping spiders have evolved trichromatic color vision via the addition of red sensitivity. Now we want to find out if the appearance of this new color “channel” lead to the diversification of male colors in this animal group.

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What is the context of this research?

Jumping spiders are the champions of miniature vision, but so far, studies have not revealed particularly impressive color vision capability. However, we have recently discovered a mechanism that appears to be unique to the particularly colorful genus Habronattus - a red filter that shifts some green-sensitive cells to red-sensitive, like a pair of red sunglasses. This filter results in trichromatic vision, a pre-requisite for “true” color vision. The discovery of color vision in a notoriously colorful group of spiders opens up the exciting possibility of understanding how this evolutionary event may have enabled the explosive radiation of species-specific male color ornamentation. Did color vision pre-date the diversification of male color displays? How has it influenced male color since?

What is the significance of this project?

We have carried out a pilot study comparing retinal filtering from a small number of species across the jumping spider “family tree”. Intriguingly, we have so far only found spectral filters that enable trichromacy in members of the particularly colorful and species-rich Habronattus genus, but not in closely related “drab” groups.

Our visual modeling suggests that trichromatic vision helps these animals discriminate their flamboyant color displays, and may represent an evolutionary key innovation enabling the radiation of diverse male colors in this group. We hope to more robustly test this exciting hypothesis by densely sampling both colorful and drab jumping spider species to more confidently identify when the red retinal filter (and trichromatic vision) might have arisen in this group.

What are the goals of the project?

By using optical, behavioral, and morphological methods, we will use jumping spiders as a model to improve our understanding of why some terrestrial animal groups evolve such fascinating color diversity. Specific goals:

  1. To collect specimens of focal species in the colorful genus Habronattus, and from closely related, mostly “drab” genera such as Pellenes, in a way that allows us to understand the history of vision and color in this animals.
  2. To determine how the female eyes see male coloration by measuring the spectral sensitivity and morphology of their eyes, and measuring the reflectance spectra of male color ornaments using micro-spectrophotometry.
  3. To analyze how males display their ornaments to the female during courtship using high-speed macro videography and digital analyses.


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We plan to collect specimens of our focal species at various identified field sites in Arizona and Southern California. These animals live in diverse habitats, including lowland desert, prairie meadows, and alpine forests. Collecting the proposed species will take us several weeks in the field.

We will keep a regular video field diary to keep you up to date! Depending on web access, we'll do a Google Hangout as well.

We have all of the equipment needed to carry out the actual research, except for an HD macro filming setup to characterize courtship interactions. Thus far, we have borrowed video equipment to film courtship interactions (see http://youtu.be/uGZwZlcCnDE). However, we need a dedicated camera setup to begin formally analyzing this behavior in several species.

Your donations will finance a collecting trip to Arizona for 2 researchers, including airfare, a rental car, lodging when camping isn't possible, and filming equipment.

The first 10 $60+ backers will receive Gil's Honey!

Meet the Team

Daniel Zurek
Daniel Zurek
Sebastian Echeverri
Sebastian Echeverri
Nate Morehouse
Nate Morehouse

Team Bio

Spider Vision Team at Morehouse Lab, University of Pittsburgh:

Daniel Zurek is a postdoctoral researcher. His main research interests lie in the sensory guidance of behavior, and the physiology and evolution of invertebrate vision. His work took him from Germany to Australia and then to the USA. Daniel is enthusiastic about photo/videography, weird animals, and rock climbing. @arachnarchy; website

Sebastian Echeverri is a doctoral student. He is interested in how animals perceive the world around them, and how this shapes their behavior. When not working in the lab, he enjoys hiking, birdwatching, and taking care of a pet praying mantis. @sa_echeverri

Nathan Morehouse is an Assistant Professor of Evolutionary Biology. For over a decade, he has been studying the evolution of the traits that males and females use to interact with each other, with a particular emphasis on color traits and color vision. @morehouselab; website

Daniel Zurek

I am a postdoctoral researcher in the Morehouse lab at the University of Pittsburgh. My research explores the relationship of the visual sense with behavior, ecology, and evolution. This often involves comparative investigations of sensory physiology and locomotory behavior, taking into account all stages from the natural sensory “Umwelt” to optical and neuronal data acquisition and processing. To this end, I mainly employ electrophysiological and psychophysical methods, as well as 'unrestrained' behavioral experiments coupled with high speed video analysis.

Sebastian Echeverri

I grew up on a steady diet of Bill Nye and Steve Irwin, and it shows. I am currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Pittsburgh, where I study the visual communication of jumping spiders. I'm interested in how animals perceive the world around them, and how this in turn shapes their behavior!

Nate Morehouse

Few things have captured and maintained my interest like the lives of insects and spiders. I'm fortunate enough to pursue this fascination for a living. It has already taken me on adventures around the world, and allowed me to discover things like how spiders see color, how a novel stomach arose in the reproductive tract of female butterflies, and how insects play with light at the nanoscale to create dazzling displays. I can't wait for the new adventures that lie ahead!

Press and Media

Some coverage of Daniel's jumping spider work:

Coverage of Daniel's other work:

Additional Information

********************** new BACKER REWARDS *************************

The first 10 backers who fund $60 or more will be sent a jar of Gil's Honey! More in the related Lab Note.


More Info:

Every Habronattus species looks different!

left to right: H. coecatus, H mustaciata, H. hallani, H. calcaratus. (Images with kind permission by Colin Hutton)

Males have an array of colorful ornaments that they display in courtship, here for example Habronattus pyrrithrix:

Female spiders pay attention to and evaluate these different ornaments:

Some our group's previous jumping spider related work:

1. Taylor, L. A., Maier, E.B., Byrne, K. J., Amin, Z. & Morehouse, N. I. 2014 Colour use by tiny predators: jumping spiders show colour biases during foraging. Anim. Behav. 90, 149–157. (doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2014.01.025)

2. Taylor, L. A. & McGraw, K. J. 2013 Male ornamental coloration improves courtship success in a jumping spider, but only in the sun. Behav. Ecol. 24, 955–967. (doi:10.1093/beheco/art011)

3. Zurek, D. B. & Nelson, X. J. 2012 Hyperacute motion detection by the lateral eyes of jumping spiders. Vision Res. 66, 26–30. (doi:10.1016/j.visres.2012.06.011)

4. Zurek, D. B. & Nelson, X. J. 2012 Saccadic tracking of targets mediated by the anterior-lateral eyes of jumping spiders. J. Comp. Physiol. A 198, 411–417. (doi:10.1007/s00359-012-0719-0)

5. Taylor, L. A., Clark, D. L. & McGraw, K. J. 2011 Condition dependence of male display coloration in a jumping spider (Habronattus pyrrithrix). Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 65, 1133–1146. (doi:10.1007/s00265-010-1127-5)

6. Zurek, D. B., Taylor, A. J., Evans, C. S. & Nelson, X. J. 2010 The role of the anterior lateral eyes in the vision-based behaviour of jumping spiders. J. Exp. Biol. 213, 2372–2378. (doi:10.1242/jeb.042382)

Project Backers

  • 90Backers
  • 109%Funded
  • $7,357Total Donations
  • $51.74Average Donation
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