Portia gets its name from the scientific name Portia fimbriata, and is a jumping spider found in the northern Australia. It is a specialised hunter, only feeding on other spiders. It is superbly camouflaged, and has clusters of hairs protruding from its body giving it an ‘unspider-like’ shape. In fact it looks a little like a piece of debris and behaves accordingly.
Portia hunts by stalking other spiders, usually those that build orb-webs. The fascinating thing about this species it that it uses a number of different strategies to approach and attack its prey depending on the situation it encounters. If one method does not work it will switch to another.
Portia has excellent eyesight. When prey is first located Portia will assess the situation make an approach which gives it the best chance of capturing the other spider, and will used different method for different species of prey. This may involve actually losing sight of the intended prey as it begins the slow and stealthy attack. This is very unusual behaviour for visual hunting spiders.
One method utilised by Portia is to move to edge of an orb-weaver’s web and pluck the web with its legs to lure the other spider closer. A Portia will sit for hours tweaking and plucking tiny vibrations to gradually lure the orb-weaver into checking out the source of the vibration. If it does not get a reaction Portia may alter the type of vibrations it produces, testing time after time until it gets a result. If the orb-weaver senses the assassin’s presence Portia will back off, and make another approach some time later.
Sometimes a Portia will simply creep onto its victim’s web, step by step, millimetre by millimetre, taking hours and sometimes days to make its way close enough to its intended prey. Portia spiders have also been known to lower themselves down by a silken thread adjacent to an orb web to make their approach.
Which ever method is used, the goal is to get close enough to an orb weaver to make a rapid attack. The Portia will jump onto the unsuspecting spider and deliver a lethal bite. Even though the victim may be several times larger than Portia, the jumping spider’s venom is potent enough to kill it inside a minute or two.
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