As much as spiders terrify me, they are fascinating creatures. I can’t help blogging about such diverse and amazing creatures, even though looking at pictures of them makes me squirm with anxiety. Today’s spider, Bagheera kiplingi, is perhaps not quite as scary as most, thanks to its diet.

Bagheera kiplingi are a species of jumping spider, and are named after Bagheera the panther from The Jungle Book, and the author, Rudyard Kipling. They are mainly found where their food is found, in Central America. They are present in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Guatemala.

Like most jumping spiders, kiplingi are quite small, only reaching sizes of five to six millimetres. Males and females are different in appearance, with the cephalothorax in males being green and red; and red and black-brown in females. The two genders can be further told apart by the shape and size of their abdomens: they are thin and small in males and wide and large in females.

A male kiplingi spider. Image by Maximilian Paradiz, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Kiplingi spiders are known for having an ethically acceptable diet, as they are almost completely vegetarian. This is very unusual for a spider, and Bagheera kiplingi is the most herbivorous species of spider in the world. They feed on what are known as Beltian bodies, which are protein, lipid, and sugar rich nubs that grow on the leaves of acacia trees and related plants. When Beltian bodies are scarce, the spiders will also feed on nectar, ant larvae, and other kiplingi spiders. So they aren’t entirely vegetarian, but they do their best in a tough world.

Acacia trees have a lovely symbiotic relationship with certain species of ants. The ants feed on the nutrient rich Beltian bodies on the trees, and guard these food sources vigilantly. For their efforts, the trees get a well equipped army to protect them from nasty herbivores. Of course, this doesn’t work too well when kiplingi spiders are around.

kiplingi spider. It’s…kind or cute? Image by Wayne Maddison, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

While most jumping spiders use their agility and speed to catch prey, kiplingi are experts at avoiding ants. They will jump from leaf to leaf to avoid ant patrols, and stay away from any buds that are too well protected.  To ensure they aren’t ambushed in their sleep, kiplingi build their nests on old dead leaves, where there are no ants.

I usually have a favourite animal in every group — for example, my favourite fox is the fennec fox, and my favourite large cat is the cheetah. Until now, I have not had favourite species of spider. They have been sorted into Terrifying and Slightly Less Terrifying. But I think I can say that Bagheera kiplingi is probably my favourite spider species. After all, there isn’t much to fear from a vegetarian spider, is there?