Male And Female Spider Perfectly Resemble Flower In Potential Cooperative Mimicry World First

Mimicry is pretty common in the animal kingdom. It might involve species mimicking the coloration of trees to better hide from predators, or it can involve species mimicking each other to act as a defense mechanism. In some cases, predators mimic the surroundings to better ambush unsuspecting prey items. One new potential example of mimicry in crab spiders, where the male and female together resemble a complete flower, could be the first cooperative mimicry to be observed.

In a tropical rainforest in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan Province, China, researchers saw both a male and female crab spider (Thomisus guangxicus) together. This is not unusual as courtship and breeding behavior takes many days between male and female crab spiders. However, the combination of the male spider on the back of the female spider made the researchers question whether this was an example of cooperative mimicry.

“We think they are together because of the courtship behavior, but as we observe, the behavior lasts for several days. According to previous studies, female crab spiders tend to eat males during or after mating, and so far, the most reasonable explanation is the female hunger hypothesis,” Shi-Mao Wu, co-author of the study, told IFLScience.

The larger white female species seems to mimic the fused petals of the flowers of the native Hoya pandurata plant, a type of milkweed. Meanwhile, the male perched on top appears to resemble the flowers’s pistils and stamens. The team say that the complex flowers are only truly mimicked when both male and female appear together. 

“There is no doubt that the two spiders are perfectly integrated into the environment, so we suspect that they can more easily avoid natural enemies, especially predation, during this long mating process, which may improve male survival,” continued Wu. The team think this could be the first case of cooperative mimicry in the world, according to New Scientist

These spiders may mimic flowers both to avoid predation by birds, but also to ambush prey themselves. Some species of crab spiders can even change color to better match their surroundings. 

Crab spiders in the genus Thomisus are known for their incredible mimicry and ambush skills.
Image Credit: JossK/

“Our preliminary observations do not find them together on other plants, but we do not rule out this possibility. We conjecture that their mating on the flowers of this species is more advantageous due to their cooperative mimicry,” finished Wu. 

The paper is published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

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