Tiny yet powerful lynx spiders are effective predators of insects in the garden. Concealed in foliage or flowers they are skilled hunters and their name refers to their catlike hunting abilities.
Although they are mostly ambush hunters they can move fast and some species of lynx spider actively stalk their prey and they have the ability to jump to catch flying insects. Although they do produce silken threads, they do not build webs to trap prey.
The lynx spiders I see amongst foliage or on flowers typically don’t run away when approached, but rather they tend to sidle off to the underside of a leaf or petal to hide if I approach too close or too suddenly.
The first time I took real notice of the tiny lynx spiders in our garden was when I noticed one sitting on a leaf in the African dog rose tree (Xylotheca kraussiana). I got into the habit of going to check on it every day to find it always motionless on the same leaf, and as the days went by its favoured leaf became discoloured, developing an autumnal patch where the spider habitually perched.
A lynx spider sitting on its favoured leaf, keeping an eye on its purse of eggs constructed in the dry leaf and flower below its watching place
In time I realised that the spider was keeping watch over an egg purse that it had made from a leaf and part of a flower, which had dried and were attached to a twig below where it kept watch. Eventually, one morning I saw that tiny spiderlings had hatched and were leaving the egg purse and dispersing to hide under the nearby leaves.
The scientific name for lynx spiders is Oxyopidae, derived from Greek and meaning sharp sighted. The spider in these photos is so small that although the eyes are visible, I was not able to count that it has 8 eyes, with 4 eyes arranged in an arc curving over the 2 largest central eyes, with 2 smaller eyes below those. The eyes are at the top of the flattish plane on the front of the ‘face’. In these spiders the head and the thorax are fused into one, with the abdomen being distinct.
One morning I found the lynx spider had come down to check on her egg pouch. It appears that she has used silk threads to attach the pouch to a green leaf
Even after the baby spiders had dispersed and the female spider had abandoned her perching leaf I continued to look out for lynx spiders on the African dog rose. One day I spotted a lynx spider on a withered flower with a bee that it had caught.
To provide a sense of scale, this is a longer shot of the spider with its prey in the dog rose. It is ringed by a red circle to make it easier to spot
Here is a closer shot of the lynx spider with its bee prey. The dying bee attracted the attention of jackal flies that arrived to join the spider in its meal
Jackal flies, also known as freeloader flies, belong to the Milichiidae family. The small flies are thought to be attracted by an alarm pheromone given off by the dying bee.
Lynx spiders have spiny bristles on their legs. These bristles help the spiders trap their prey and also serve to protect the spiders from being hurt by struggling prey.
A close-up of the lynx spider – the spines on its legs can just be seen. The dead bee is lying on its back with its tongue protruding
Lynx spiders have venom that they use to immobilise and kill their prey. Lynx spiders in South Africa are harmless to humans
All species of Lynx spiders are active during the day. In South Africa there are three genera of lynx spiders. Oxyopes, meaning quick footed, are golden or grass lynx spiders. Species in this genus tend to be very active hunters, searching for and stalking prey and with the ability to pounce or jump to catch prey. Peucetia are green lynx spiders that hunt in plants with viscid hairs that trap prey. The spider avoids being trapped itself by laying down silken threads along which it walks or else it hangs from its silk threads with its hind legs, using its spiny foremost legs as a basket with which to capture the prey. The third genus is Hamataliwa comprising dome-headed lynx spiders, and they resemble crab spiders in hunting technique. Mimicking a knot, bud or thorn in the vegetation they are mostly ambush hunters (Source: Biodiversity Explorer).
One bright morning I noticed a lynx spider in the everlasting (Helichrysum cooperi) after it had caught a bee. Because of its small size I have added a red circle to make it easier to locate the spider in the photo
By staying motionless in a flower and waiting to catch any hapless pollinator that visits, this spider succeeded in catching a bee
This lynx spider is redder in colour than the spider I saw in the dog rose, but it has the same band of creamy white down the length of its body. It is holding the motionless bee that is upsidedown
The spider has reoriented the bee and now grasps it at its head
I managed to photograph an even tinier species of lynx spider on the underside of a leaf while it sucks fluid from its fly prey
And even tinier still is this orange lynx spider, also with a fly. The rather blurry ant on the right-hand side perhaps provides a clue as to just how small this spider is – rather too small in fact for a sharp photograph taken using the zoom lens. I have not mastered the art of approaching close enough to take a macro shot without frightening the spider into hiding
Although not all 9 genera of lynx spiders are represented throughout the world, at least some species of lynx spiders occur across all continents. So next time you are out and about in a garden, park or natural environment keep an eye out for these intriguing little predators.
Larson, Norman. [n.d.] Family: Oxyopidae (lynx spiders). https://www.biodiversityexplorer.info/arachnids/spiders/oxyopidae/index.htm; Picker, Mike, Griffiths, Charles & Weaving, Alan. 2019. Field Guide to Insects of South Africa. Cape Town: Struik Nature.; Wikipedia. [n.d.] Lynx spider. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynx_spider
Posted by Carol