Home Sci-Tech South Africa: Bad Acting Saves Spider Lives

South Africa: Bad Acting Saves Spider Lives

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Scientists have uncovered the secret behind the survival of a vibrantly coloured spider that wards off predators: bad acting skills.

The Siler Collingwood, a tiny jumping spider, raises its front legs to imitate antennae while swaying its legs and wiggling its abdomen to mimic the movement of an ant.

Since ants are known for their spiky defences and venomous jaws, the spider’s performance aims to bore potential predators who might think twice before tangling with an ant.

A recent study published in the journal iScience reveals that while S. Collingwood’s impersonation is far from great, researchers found that its less-than-perfect act is actually beneficial, allowing the amateur performer to mimic multiple ant species and deter most of its predators.

“S. Collingwood is not necessarily a perfect mimic because its gait and trajectory showed high similarity with multiple ant species,” said lead author of the study, Hua Zeng, an ecologist at Peking University.

“Being a general mimic rather than perfectly mimicking one ant species could benefit the spiders by allowing them to expand their range if the ant models occupy different habitats.”

To understand how this ant-mimicking spider deceives its predators, the researchers collected S. Collingwood specimens, along with five ant species and another non-mimicking jumping spider, from various locations on Hainan Island in southern China.

By comparing S. Collingwood’s movements with those of real ants, the researchers discovered that the spider’s gait resembled the gaits of three smaller ant species that were closer in size to the spider.

However, the spider’s survival strategy doesn’t rely solely on its acting prowess. The spider’s appearance, characterised by striking metallic colours of orange, red, and blue on its head and abdomen, adds another layer of defence.

In their ongoing research, the scientists plan to investigate whether the spider’s performance is genetically determined or acquired through learning.

Compiled by staff writer

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