Peckham & Peckham, 1896
Bagheera kiplingi is a species of jumping spider found in Central America including Mexico, Costa Rica and Guatemala. It is the type species of the genus Bagheera, which includes one other species, B. prosper. B. kiplingi is notable for its peculiar diet, which, uniquely for a spider, is mostly herbivorous. No other known spider has such a thoroughly herbivorous diet.
The genus name is derived from Bagheera, the black panther from Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book, with the species name honoring Kipling himself. Other salticid genera with names of Kipling's characters are Akela, Messua and Nagaina. All four were named by George and Elizabeth Peckham in 1896.
Bagheera kiplingi is a colorful, sexually dimorphic species. The male has amber legs, a dark cephalothorax that is greenish in the upper region near the front, and a slender reddish abdomen with green transversal lines. The female's amber front legs are sturdier than the other, slender legs, which are light yellow. It has a reddish brown cephalothorax with the top region near the front black. The female's rather large abdomen is light brown with dark brown and greenish markings.
B. kiplingi inhabit Mimosaceae trees, Vachellia in particular, where they consume specialized protein- and fat-rich nubs called Beltian bodies. The nubs form at the leaf tips of the Acacia as part of a symbiotic relationship with certain species of ants. The spiders actively avoid the ants who attempt to guard the Beltian bodies (their food source) against intruders. Although the Beltian bodies account for over 90% of B. kiplingi diet, the spiders also consume nectar and occasionally steal ant larvae from passing worker ants for food. Sometimes they will cannibalize other B. kiplingi, especially during the dry season.
Despite the occasional consumption of meat, the spiders' tissues have been found to exhibit isotopic signatures typical of herbivorous animals, implying that most of their food comes from plants. The mechanism by which they process and ingest the Beltian bodies is still unresearched. The vast majority of spiders liquify their prey using digestive enzymes before sucking it in.
While they feed almost exclusively on a herbivorous diet in Mexico where they inhabit more than half of Acacia collinsii trees, populations in Costa Rica, where less than 5% of Acacia are populated by B. kiplingi, do so to a lesser extent. Although this species is mostly territorial and forages solitarily, populations of several hundred specimens have been found on individual acacias in Mexico, with more than twice as many females as males. B. kiplingi appears to breed throughout the year. Observations of adult females guarding hatchlings and clutches suggest that the species is quasisocial.
- Platnick 2009
- Mihai, Andrei (Oct 13, 2009). "First (mainly) vegetarian spider found". ZME Science.
- Milius 2008
- Meehan et al. 2008
- Maddison 1996
- * Meehan, Christopher J.; Olson, Eric J.; Reudink, Matthew W.; Kyser, T. Kurt; Curry, Robert L. (2009): "Herbivory in a spider through exploitation of an ant-plant mutualism." Current Biology 19:R892-R893.
- Maddison, Wayne P. (1996): Pelegrina franganillo and other jumping spiders formerly placed in the genus Metaphidippus (Araneae: Salticidae). Bull. Mus. comp. Zool. Harv. 154: 215-368.
- Meehan, Christopher J.; Olson, Eric J.; Curry, Robert L. (21 August 2008): Exploitation of the Pseudomyrmex–Acacia mutualism by a predominantly vegetarian jumping spider (Bagheera kiplingi). The 93rd ESA Annual Meeting.
- Milius, Susan (30 August 2008): "Vegetarian spider". Science News 174: 5.
- Platnick, Norman I. (2009): The world spider catalog, version 10.0. American Museum of Natural History.