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The Golden “Cat” – Fighting Spider

Oct 2022
Author : Green Power

There is a game with a Cantonese name meaning “golden cat combat”, though it is maybe long gone. The “golden cat” actually refers to Fighting Spider (Thiania spp.) is one such special plant; and—albeit its flowers are tiny—easily catches the eyes with true blue blossoms!

Besides the popular name of “golden cat”, the tiny 1-cm spider is also called “leopard tiger”. You can see how “mighty” these little creatures are! They are indeed seasoned hunters, and always prey on live arthropods such as beetles, mosquitoes, moths and butterflies, and even weaker members of their kind.

In taxonomy, Fighting Spider Thiania spp. belongs to Salticidae, the family with the most spiders. Compared to other spiders, Fighting Spider has shorter legs and is good at jumping—it can jump 20-times its body length. It has excellent vision too. The pair of anterior median eyes, among the four pairs, are especially large and close together so the spider to accurately judge the distance from the prey.

There are four species of Fighting Spider found in Hong Kong. Thiania suboppressa is the most common. The other three are: T. bhamoensis, T. inermis and T. chrysogramma. In the past, the different species were distinguished by their colours. However, a review paper was published in China last year that pointed out a more accurate way of identifying Fighting Spider species is to check the pedipalp. Later, local amateurs also confirmed that colour may not be reliable in identifying the spiders. Different Fighting Spider species may have very similar colours.

The spider that cannot weave

Fighting Spider can produce silk, but it does not weave a spider web—as the species prefers active hunting rather than waiting for prey to fall into trap. As the female lays eggs, it produces silk to stitch a leaf to form a nursery room and protect the newly born eggs.

As with other spiders, Fighting Spider is solitary as soon as it emerges from the egg. It is not only non-social, it becomes aggressive especially when confronting the same sex. It will raise and expand its first pair of legs and get ready for a fight!

During the 1960s to 1980s, when there were no digital toys, spider fighting was a popular game among children. They would buy Fighting Spiders from shops or catch them in the wild. The spiders were put in matchboxes, or boxes made with the long leaves of Screw Pine (Pandanus tectorius). Usually the spiders were sneaked into school. Fighting was simple. By putting two Fighting Spiders together, they would enter combat by instinct. The losing spider would flee or otherwise be beaten to death. Spider fighting only remains in old memories, and is no longer a game for children of today!

Fighting Spider is commonly called “golden cat”, but in fact not all Fighting Spiders are golden.
A more accurate way to identify Fighting Spiders is by checking the pedipalps (where the arrows point).
© Dickson Wong
Fighting Spider can jump 20 times its body length.
© Dickson Wong

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