Dancing zebras

Zebra spider (c) Jon Traill

Walking past the shed door, a flicker of movement caught my eye, the late afternoon sunshine illuminating the streaky brown paintwork and flaking woodwork

Walking past the shed door, a flicker of movement caught my eye, the late afternoon sunshine illuminating the streaky brown paintwork and flaking woodwork. There, on the edge of the doorframe was a miniscule shape etched in bands of black and white.

I slowly and deliberately moved closer to observe one of my favourite spiders.

Two large inky black eyes shone at me, while the other 6 eyes gave full vision of its surroundings.

As I entered this miniature world, my arachnid friend began to move across its vertical wooden dancefloor door. The staccato steps and jerky twists, reminiscent of a ballroom tango, with the finale a jump across the boards, in fact an attempt to secure a meal.

I could almost hear the musical accompaniment, keeping rhythm to the time and motion and as my senses sharpened, the rustle of the leaves in the trees did provide a suitable swaying beat.

It is these colour markings and its behaviour that give rise to its English names of the zebra or jumping spider. The scientific name of Salticus scenicus provides a wonderful confirmation, as the Latin salticus means dancing and the Greek scenicus translates as theatrical.

As the seconds ticked by, those huge forward-facing eyes fixed a stare, binocular vision perfectly adapted to hunt down prey, so much so that distances can be accurately worked out for its final leap. No web needed for this spider.

A sudden gust of wind fractured the moment and my dancing zebra quickstepped away into a crevice at the side of the wall. I stood for a moment more, listening to the autumn weather and feeling the cool of the breeze. I exited the dancefloor, the stage open for a repeat performance on another day by the dancing zebra, exit stage left.