Camouflage is nothing new in the animal kingdom... thousands of species use it for both hiding from predators and for sneaking up on prey. In these cases, everyone wants to be the cool kids on the block... ants. Ants, it turns out, are the Fonzies of the insect and arachnid world. Nature has totally noticed that no one f*cks with ants. They are brutally tough; they are full of acid; they fight in organized battalions; they have powerful slicing mandibles; and they taste bad. Predators stay away. And so, entire groups of spiders and other insects have tapped their multiple legs thoughtfully against their mandibles and mused: "Those guys kind of rule."
Over 200 species of jumping spiders alone have decided that ant life is the life for them. In many of these cases they do so for the protection it provides. Look like an ant, walk like an ant... no one eats you. In some other instances, it's awesome cover to sling an antskin over your back and walk out into the colony - shaking hands and eating whoever you want.
Ant-mimics usually use their first or second pair of legs to fake ant antennae, such as reducing the number of functional legs to six. Look carefully, count legs. These guys are so good, if I wasn't telling you these were NOT ants, you would never know!
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SpiderAmazingly, the baby spiders, when they are too minute to convincingly copy the much bigger ant species that the adult copies, use other smaller ant species as a model.
Myrmarachne assimilis is the only Myrmarachne species that mimics the aggressive weaver ant, with which it lives in close contact. Not only do they look alike and walk alike, it is also thought that Assimilis has developed a way to copy the chemical signatures the weavers use to recognize each other.
Synemosyna formicaVideo: YouTube
For many salticids (jumping spiders), ants can be very dangerous... but salticid eyesight seems to be up to the challenge. Some experiments have demonstrated that many species of ordinary salticids (species that are neither ant-like nor ant-eating) readily identify ants by sight and then avoid their proximity.
Ant-like and ant-eating salticids NEED to get close to ants, however, and they apparently have abilities to survive these close encounters better than other salticids. It has been thought that accurate mimics of a particular model species survive better ... but a brand new study might suggest that imperfect mimics possibly do better than their perfect couterparts.Synemosyna formica is thought to mimic Pseudomyrmex gracilis, a nasty little a-hole that can both jump and sting.
SpiderThe house I grew up in had regular infestations of these ridiculously mean little biting assholes, and I am pretty sure I would have preferred living with the spider version.
This ant-like salticid is found from the northeastern United States southwest to Mexico. These could not look more like the super-aggressive harvester ants of the region. Specifically, note the markings on the spider's upper thorax that looks like big, bambi ant eyes.
- Photo: Dan Olsen / Shutterstock.com4
Aphantochilus is a sly predator. Unlike many of the spiders and insects on this list, this guy looks and acts like the ants he eats. He can approach the colony without causing alarm because of his looks and his demeanor... but will strike when he gets close enough.
This particular spider is so specialized as a predator of these specific ants that they refuse to eat other types of insects. They not only blend in with ants by looking like them, they also hold their catches in a way that makes it look like they are just another member of the colony holding a deceased companion.