Spiders are often in danger of becoming prey for a wide variety of other animals and insects. For this reason some spider species have decided that the best way to avoid being eaten is to mimic another insect, that because of its territorial aggression is actually given a wide birth.
The humble but nevertheless very intelligent ant is the insect in question. There are also spiders that have evolved to look like ants in order to help them catch their prey.
Aggressive ant mimicry is very rare, but none the less very interesting. Ants have a barrage of chemical defences, strong jaws and poisonous stings, which when used collectively can be an effective armoury. No wonder an aggressive ant mimicking spider thinks it better to attack when it finds a lone victim. It also has to be careful when it’s found its lunch, to avoid being attacked by the other ants as it carries its meal away.
Crab spiders for example, jump on their victim, bite it and then make their escape using a silk safety line. The ground spider on the other hand, uses the prey they’ve caught as a shield against any challenging ants. This fools the ants into thinking that the spider is simply one of them, carrying a dead ant away from the nest.
Myrmecomorphy is the art of mimicking ants, at least outwardly, in order to avoid being eaten, and there are more than 300 species of spiders that do this very well.
There are several predators that actually avoid these little creatures because they can often be very territorial. The spiders have evolved false waists, reflective hairs, coloured patches round their eyes, and show ant-like behaviour such as waving their legs and moving in a zigzag pattern. Unless you look really closely you’d easily think you were looking at an ant.
Image by: Yogendra Joshi
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