Portia (genus)

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female P. fimbriata
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Arachnida
Order: Araneae
Family: Salticidae
Subfamily: Spartaeinae
Genus: Portia
Karsch, 1878
Type species
Salticus fimbriatus
Doleschall, 1859

see text

17 species

Portia is a genus of jumping spider that feeds on other spiders (araneophagic). They are remarkable for their intelligent hunting behaviour, which suggests that they are capable of learning and problem solving, traits normally attributed to much larger animals.[1]


The 17 described species are found in Africa, Australia, China, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

Hunting techniques[edit]

Portia often hunt in ways that seem intelligent.[2] Their favorite prey appears to be web-building spiders between 10% and 200% of their own size. Portia look like leaf detritus caught in a web, and this is often enough to fool web-building spiders, which have poor eyesight.[2] When stalking web-building spiders, Portia try to make different patterns of vibrations in the web that aggressively mimic the struggle of a trapped insect or the courtship signals of a male spider, repeating any pattern that induces the intended prey to move towards the Portia.[3] Portia fimbriata has been observed to perform vibratory behavior for three days until the victim decided to investigate.[4] They time invasions of webs to coincide with light breezes that blur the vibrations that their approach causes in the target's web; and they back off if the intended victim responds belligerently. Other jumping spiders take detours, but Portia is unusual in its readiness to use long detours that break visual contact.[3]

Female P. fimbriata in a web

Laboratory studies show that Portia learns very quickly how to overcome web-building spiders that neither it nor its ancestors would have met in the wild. Portia’s accurate visual recognition of potential prey is an important part of its hunting tactics. For example, in one part of the Philippines, local Portia spiders attack from the rear against the very dangerous spitting spiders, which themselves hunt jumping spiders. This appears to be an instinctive behavior, as laboratory-reared Portia of this species do this the first time they encounter a spitting spider. On the other hand, they will use a head-on approach against spitting spiders that are carrying eggs. However, experiments that pitted Portia against "convincing" artificial spiders with arbitrary but consistent behavior patterns showed that Portia’s instinctive tactics are only starting points for a trial-and-error approach from which these spiders learn very quickly.[3] Nonetheless, they seem to be relatively slow "thinkers", as is to be expected since they solve tactical problems by using brains vastly smaller than those of mammalian predators.[2] Against other jumping spiders, which also have excellent vision, Portia may mimic fragments of leaf litter detritus. When close to biting range, Portia use different combat tactics against different prey spiders. On the other hand, when attacking unarmed prey, such as flies, they simply stalk and rush,[5] and they also capture prey by means of sticky webs.[3]


When not hunting for prey or a mate, Portia species adopt a special posture, called the "cryptic rest posture", pulling their legs in close to the body and their palps back beside the chelicerae ("jaws"), which obscures the outlines of these appendages. When walking, most Portia species have a slow, "choppy" gait that preserves their concealment: pausing often and at irregular intervals; waving their legs continuously and their palps jerkily up and down; moving each appendage out of time with the others;[6][7] and continuously varying the speed and timing.[8]

When disturbed, some Portia species are known to leap upwards about 100 to 150 millimetres, often from the cryptic rest pose, and often over a wide trajectory. Usually the spider then either freezes or runs about 100 millimetres and then freezes.[9]


Portia exhibits a different mating behavior and strategy than other jumping spiders. In most jumping spiders, males mount females to mate. The Portia male shows off his legs and extends them stiffly and shakes them to attract the female. The female then drums on the web. After the male mounts her, the female drops a dragline and they mate in mid-air.[citation needed] Mating with Portia spiders can occur off or on the web. The spider also practices cannibalism before and after copulation. The female usually twists and lunges at the mounted male. (P. fimbriata, however, is an exception; it does not usually exhibit such behavior.) If the male is killed before completing copulation, the male sperm is removed and the male is then eaten. If the male finishes mating before being killed, the sperm is kept for fertilization and the male is eaten. A majority of males are killed during sexual encounters.



  1. ^ Piper, Ross (2007), Extraordinary Animals: An Encyclopedia of Curious and Unusual Animals, Greenwood Press.
  2. ^ a b c Harland, D.P., and Jackson, R.R. (2000). ""Eight-legged cats" and how they see - a review of recent research on jumping spiders (Araneae: Salticidae)" (PDF). Cimbebasia 16: 231–240. Retrieved 2014-10-21. 
  3. ^ a b c d Wilcox, S. and Jackson, R. (2002). "Jumping Spider Tricksters". In Bekoff, M., Allen, C., and Burghardt, G.M. The Cognitive Animal: Empirical and Theoretical Perspectives on Animal Cognition. MIT Press. pp. 27–34. ISBN 0-262-52322-1. 
  4. ^ Australian Museum: Fringed Jumping Spider, Portia fimbriata
  5. ^ Harland, D.P., and Jackson, R.R. (April 2006). "A knife in the back: use of prey-specific attack tactics by araneophagic jumping spiders (Araneae: Salticidae)". Journal of Zoology 269 (3): 285–290. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.2006.00112.x. 
  6. ^ Harland, D. P.; Robert R. Jackson (November 2000). "Cues by which Portia fimbriata, an araneophagic jumping spider, distinguishes jumping-spider prey from other prey" (PDF). The Journal of Experimental Biology (Company of Biologists) 203 (Pt 22): 3485–3494. PMID 11044386. Retrieved 4 May 2011. 
  7. ^ Harland, Duane P.; Robert R. Jackson (2004). "Portia Perceptions: The Umwelt of an Aranephagic Jumping Spider". In Frederick R. Prete. Complex worlds from simpler nervous systems. MIT Press. pp. 5–40. ISBN 978-0-262-66174-4. Retrieved 12 April 2011. 
  8. ^ Wilcox, R. Stimson; Robert R. Jackson (1998). "Cognitive Abilities of Araneophagic Jumping Spiders". In Russell P. Balda, Irene Maxine Pepperberg, Alan C. Kamil. Animal cognition in nature: the convergence of psychology and biology in laboratory and field. Academic Press. ISBN 978-0-12-077030-4. Retrieved 23 May 2011. 
  9. ^ Jackson, Robert R.; Susan E. A. Hallas (1986). "Comparative biology of jumping spiders Portia africana, P. albimana, P. fimbriata, P. labiata and P. schultzi, areanophagic, web-building jumping spiders (Araneae: Salticidae) utilisation of webs, predatory versatility, and intraspecfic interactions". New Zealand Journal of Zoology 13: 423–489. doi:10.1080/03014223.1986.10422978. ISSN 0301-4223. Retrieved 17 May 2011. 
  • Harland, D.P & Jackson R.R. (2000): 'Eight-legged cats' and how they see - a review of recent research on jumping spiders (Araneae: Salticidae). Cimbebasia 16: 231-240 PDF - vision and behavior in Portia spiders.
  • Harland, D.P. & Jackson, R.R. (2006): A knife in the back: use of prey-specific attack tactics by araneophagic jumping spiders (Araneae: Salticidae). Journal of Zoology 269(3): 285-290. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.2006.00112.x

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