With over 40,000 known species of spiders, scientists had believed they knew everything there was to know, about these web building arachnids. However, that was before they discovered two new species that dupe their predators by building incredibly accurate decoys of themselves.
Using the corpses of insects and other detritus from the jungle floor, the spiders create what look like exact replicas of themselves sitting in the middle of their webs. The only difference? The sculptures are considerably larger than their creators (up to 30 mm versus just a few millimeters for the real spider). This makes the decoy appear menacing enough to drive smaller predators away or provide a crunchy mouthful of dried debris for those that are brave enough to take a lunge. What's even more interesting is that the spiders are smart enough to make their decoys 'come to life' by shaking their webs when they sense a predator close by. The most amazing part is that the two species that were discovered at almost the same time, live 11,000 miles apart - One in South America's Amazon Basin and the other, in the Philippines.
In 2012, Phil Torres, a US entomologist who is currently working in Peru, was leading a group of tourists near the Tambopata Research Centre in the Amazon Basin when he stumbled across this new species of arachnid that he now believes belongs to the 'sculpting' Cyclosa spider family. While its members are known to create decoys, they are often clumpy and do not resemble the real arachnids at all. Moreover, none of them are astute enough to start shaking their webs when they sense predators.
Curiously enough, that same year, another US biologist Lary Reeves, located a spider exhibiting the same incredible behavior in the Philippines. The only difference was the style - The Peruvian spider creates decoys with legs placed downward, while the one in the Philippines displays its model with the legs splayed out in all directions.
Both teams have collected several specimens of the species to investigate how the spiders build their sculptures and also the time it takes to create each masterpiece. More importantly, they are also curious as to how two species living in different parts of the planet have managed to evolve this same behavior. While the scientists believe that it may be due to a common ancestor, they still need to conduct genetic tests to confirm that. In addition, they are also curious to investigate if the spiders build the decoys as just a defense strategy or to deceive their prey as well. It certainly seems to work for both.
Hopefully, with further scientific research the two teams will be able to unveil additional secrets about these fascinating arachnids. Also, the appearance of the two species in disparate locations means that there may be similar decoy-sculpting spiders lurking in other areas too - So the next time you see one hanging off its web, be sure to take a closer look to see if it's the real thing or just a clever decoy!
Resources: Wired.com, dailymail.co.uk