Our spider of the month (SOTM) for September 2022 is this beetle-mimic jumping spider (Pachyballus miniscutulus), photographed by Ruan Booysen in Bloemfontein.
This spider is about only 2 mm in body length, and earns its species name, miniscutulus, which basically means “small shield”, by the small ventral scutum above the spinnerets. Pachyballus originates from “pachy”, meaning “thick” (think pachyderms, or thick-skinned animals, like elephants, rhinos, and hippos) and ballus, which probably originates from the Greek “ballizo”, meaning to jump or dance (think ballerina). Ballus is a different genus of jumping spiders.
There are only nine recorded species in the world; four of which were recently described by Wesołowska, Azarkina and Wiśniewski in 2020. Eight of these species can be found only in Africa, and only one species (P. gambeyi) found on the French island of New Caledonia east of Australia. P. miniscutulus is found only in South Africa.
Ruan found a few of these spiders in the Free State National Botanical Garden in Bloemfontein. This is what he said about the find:
“This individual was found while I was rummaging around in the restios. It, and a few others, were running up and down the shafts of the plants, probably looking for a meal (or a mate?), or maybe just to avoid getting seen. They are suspected to be mimics of leaf beetles, but more work needs to be done on this. They are seemingly endless sources of energy, and seem to be constantly running, unlike our electricity suppliers. At first, I thought they were females of another similar looking spider, Xuriella prima, but upon closer inspection, and a few second opinions, it was confirmed that they were Pachyballus. I was excited as this was the first time that I have ever seen one before. Naturally, photographing it was a pain as it did not behave itself very well, but I eventually got OK photographs that I could share!”