Underdogs of the Animal World: Bagheera Kiplingi Spider

Here is a picture of a cat in a spider costume. Awww… right? Yes, awww, that’s what we’re going for. Now, hold onto that feeling of fuzzy and calm, because you might need it where we’re going.

Today we’re gonna talk about the Bagheera Kiplingi spider. Just keep thinking about the cat; it will be over soon, I promise.

Spiders seem to have a bad rep in the animal world, and that’s sad. But this spider definitely doesn’t deserve it, and I’m here to tell you why you should stick them on your Christmas card list and why, if you see one in the street, you shouldn’t cross the road to avoid it and pretend to spot something really shiny in a store window and then discover that you’ve been staring at men’s underwear for far too long to get away with, and the spider’s seen you anyway, and now you’re going to have to discuss your new-found obsession with men’s underwear with a spider you don’t even like. Or something.

Here it is…

Are we still awww-ing? Nope? Moving on…

So when a Bagheera Kiplingi spider was first discovered in 1896, it was dead, and they didn’t have much to go on, but they obviously had to name it. Scientists studied it, realised it was a jumping spider and thought, ‘Hey, jumping spiders are fast and deadly and awesome, let’s give it a fast, deadly, awesome name!’ The Jungle Book had been published two years earlier, and they must have been fans, because they named it after Bagheera, the Black Panther, and Mr. Rudyard Kipling himself, which is obviously waaay better than a Nobel Prize.

It turns out, though, that Bagheera Kiplingi spiders are not deadly, not even a little bit – okay, maybe a little bit, but not to us, and they’re mainly fluffy and cute and wonderful. They’re actually vegetarians – well, mostly vegetarian; the most vegetarian spider out of the tens of thousands of spider species’ that we know about, which is pretty cool and non-threatening. Costa Rican Bagheeras have a diet that’s pretty much half plants and half bugs, whilst their overachieving Mexican cousins consume 90% plants, with the rest of their diet coming from bugs. So they’re not super strict, but hey, at least they’re trying. Oh, what? Chicken isn’t vegan?

Most jumping spiders will use their pouncy powers to hunt their prey – no namby pamby webs for them, oh no, they pay the iron price. But being a (kinda) veggie spider isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. The Bagheera Kiplingi can’t just wander into a Whole Foods and grab something yummy and green you know, they have to hunt their veggies with all the wit and cunning of a ninja on a deadline. More on that later.

To get an idea of why the Bagheera Kiplingi spider is veggie, we need to look at where they live. Bagheera Kiplingis inhabit acacia trees, more specifically, the rubbish, dead leaves of the acacia tree. This isn’t because they have some middle class guilt issues, but because all the good leaves are taken by their mortal enemies. Dun, dun, duuuuun!

The Bagheera Kiplingi’s nemesis comes in the form of an ant with anger issues that lives in the live leaves of the acacia tree. The ants and the tree are basically BFFs. The ants guard the tree from any unwanted guests in return for a home. Pretty much, the ants sleep on the tree’s couch and whenever the weirdo from the floor below rings the bell, they deal with it while the tree hides behind the couch shoveling Ben & Jerry’s into its mouth, whilst regretting ever saying hi to such an obviously unstable person. In this metaphorical scenario, the Bagheera Kiplingi isn’t the weirdo neighbour, he’s the neighbour’s cat. He slips in unnoticed – the ants might even think he’s theirs, who knows – and he gets in and out, undetected.

The main staple of the Bagheera Kiplingi’s diet is Beltian bodies, the yummy little nubs on the tips of the live leaves of the acacia tree. Now, to get these Beltian bodies, the Bagheera Kiplingi has to do some Cirque du Soleil-style stunts, pouncing from leaf to leaf, whilst avoiding booby traps and laser sharks and land mines (probably). The Bagheeras know that if they get spotted, they’re in serious trouble with the ants, so they use their epic eyesight and super quick reactions to avoid them like crazy. Sometimes they’ll even fling themselves off a leaf and hang on a silk string until it’s safe to continue the mission.

Now, most spiders kill their prey, pour digestive juices onto it to liquidize it, and then slurp it up. Sounds delicious, right? Yeah, the Bagheera Kiplingi didn’t think so either, which leads us to an unsolved mystery: how do they digest the Beltian bodies? The nubs are around 80% fibre, which really shouldn’t be an adequate food source for them, yet somehow they manage.

The sweetest thing about the Bagheera Kiplingi spider is that the males are super paternal. They guard the babies from predators, which is strange for spiders, because the dads usually like to eat their babies instead. Bagheera Kiplingi babies stay with their parents long after they hatch, and if you were to observe them, you’d pretty much be watching a really kooky episode of The Waltons. Scientists are still trying to figure out if it’s the vegetarianism that makes the Bagheera Kiplingi more agreeable, or if they’re just naturally lovely. Not enough is known about them, but we do know that, for a spider, they’re pretty awesome.

Featured image via Smosh

Additional image via Livescience

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