Another Ant… or is it? Mimicry in the Bornean Jungle

Trekking Through the Jungle

As you are tramping through the jungle, you see all sorts of amazing creatures. Every now and then, though, you see something that really takes you by surprise. This little ‘insect’ was definitely the surprise on this occasion.

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The Ant on the Leaf

As I was brushing past a bush, I noticed an ant on one of its leaves. It was about the right size, shape and colour of the other ants we had seen around, but something looked slightly off about it. I turned back for a closer look.

Myrmarachne sp. [ANT MIMICKING JUMPING SPIDER] Sabah, Borneo 10-10-2017 (3).jpg
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A Very Convincing Mimic

The number of legs were the first thing that gave the ‘ant’ away. Ants are insects, and all insects have six legs. I counted again, and this particular critter had eight! Arachinds have eight legs… And, with one look at its face and its cute, forward-facing eyes, I realised I was staring at a jumping spider.

Myrmarachne sp. [ANT MIMICKING JUMPING SPIDER] Sabah, Borneo 10-10-2017 (6).jpg
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Ant-mimicking Spiders

Why would a spider mimic an ant?

Myrmarachne sp. [ANT MIMICKING JUMPING SPIDER] Sabah, Borneo 10-10-2017 (5)
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Ant-mimicking spiders may be mimicking an ant because either:

1. Ants can be quite aggressive and unpleasant, and some spiders lack strong defences of their own. The spiders make use of their resemblance to well-defended ants to avoid being attacked by their predators, some of which may also be ants. This is called Batesian mimicry. A great example of this is a study which showed that praying mantises (a predator of jumping spiders) avoided both ants and the ant-mimicking jumping spiders, but would quite happily predate the ordinary jumping spiders which didn’t resemble ants. Check out our references below for the full paper.

2. The spiders might be predators of ants, so they disguise themselves as ants in order to successfully approach their prey. This is called aggressive mimicry.

As for which type of mimic ours is, we’re not entirely sure. We have read that ant-hunters often do not visually resemble ants very closely. Our spider’s chelicerae (the mouth-parts it uses to ‘bite’) are large compared to some of the other ant-mimicking spiders we’ve seen online. Does this mean it doesn’t resemble an ant as much? Are big chelicerae for hunting aggressive ants?

If you can shed any light on this for us, please let us know in the comments!

Myrmarachne sp. [ANT MIMICKING JUMPING SPIDER] Sabah, Borneo 10-10-2017
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Want to Read More?

Check out another of our invertebrate posts, this time from New Zealand:

Zoomology Giraffe Weevil


References and Further Reading

Nelson, X.J., Jackson, R.R., Edwards, G.B. & Barrion, A.T. (2006) “Living with the enemy: jumping spiders that mimic weaver ants”. The Journal of Arachnology 33: 813–819. PDF here.

Nelson, Ximena; et al. (April 2006). “Innate aversion to ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) and ant mimics: experimental findings from mantises (Mantodea)”. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. 88 (1): 23–32. Read the paper here.

Wikipedia Website – Ant Mimicry – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ant_mimicry
(Retrieved 5 December, 2017)

13 Comments Add yours

  1. Interesting! I don’t have any insights, but from you’ve shared, there certainly seems to be a protective element there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment, Helen! I definitely agree with you about there being a protective element. 🙂

      -Emma

      Like

  2. Graham says:

    Fantastic little fella! I thought it might be a wasp until I saw the legs. Sneaky! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Graham! Mimicry fascinates me. 🙂 It’s wonderful, isn’t it?!

      -Emma

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wendy says:

    Wonderful photographs. It’s really interesting when you look at the little creatures close up, isn’t it. The things they can do to avoid someone eating them. What an adventure your life is. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Wendy! It really is interesting when you get to see something up close. It gives us an entirely new perspective.

      Yes, we live for adventure! (Even if it makes us poor, haha! But we don’t mind because we certainly are rich in memories and experiences! 😀 )

      -Emma

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Fotohabitate says:

    Why can not both mimicry methods apply? Maybe both reasons for the development have been decisive! However I have never seen a eight-footed ant with such a sweet face! Thank you for showing. Our world is truly amazing!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Fotohabitate says:

    I find the ant so intersting that I researched further. And I found Orsima ichneumon. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, Simone! The Orsima ichneumon jumping spider is beautiful. It is such a good ant-mimic, too! 😀 Agreed – Our world is indeed truly amazing.

      -Emma

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wonderful pictures and definitions of biology concepts!

    Based on what you said and the source website, it seems like it might be both Batesian and aggressive mimicry. It would make sense the mimicry would serve the spider both ways-to protect it and to allow it to trick its prey. After all, it is tough in the wild and animals need all the help they can get!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Cool spider. I think this is good ol’ Batesian mimicry rather than aggressive mimicry for the simple fact that ants recognize their nest mates by smell rather than sight. Look at all the ant-associates in the order Coleoptera – none of which have evolved to actually resemble ants, but instead have been able to break the pheromone codes that ants use for communication and trick them into accepting the beetles within their nests.

    Really love the jaws on that spider!

    Liked by 1 person

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