April 17, 2024

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Why do spiders like to imitate ants?  And it still works

Why do spiders like to imitate ants? And it still works

There is a danger, you might be eaten and what are your tactics? Pretend to be an ant. This doesn't sound like a very smart approach, but it is. Even spiders can do this.

Ants are often aggressive, have bad taste and attack in groups. For many animals, it is not a snack they look forward to. Because they usually ignore ants, other insects can take advantage of them by imitating ants. This seems entirely possible for some species, but Australian researchers think it would be fairly impossible for spiders to resemble an ant.

Another trick
The idea was that because of their completely different body shape, they wouldn't be very convincing as an ant. But it turns out that's not so bad. In fact, some spiders are just as good at pretending to be an ant as other insects. Some insects are as bad at this as some spiders, although they do their trick in a different way. According to the researchers, this means that it is not necessary to completely imitate the ant. Imperfect imitation also seems to have advantages, and body shape plays a lesser role.

As good as other insects
Incomplete imitation is very common in nature. Restrictions on animals have always been cited as an explanation. In other words: they can't do better. But it's not that simple. “We compared the mimicry of spiders that imitate ants to the mimicry of other insects. Since the body shape of spiders is very different from that of ants, we expect spiders to be restricted compared to insects that are more similar to ants per se. But We found out The researchers said that spiders were able, like insects, to imitate ants.

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“We looked at the mimetic traits of spiders and those found in insects, beetles, wasps and flies,” says researcher Jim McLean of the University of California, California. Macquarie University on Scientias.nl. This has led to great results. “Some spiders have changed their body shape so dramatically that they resemble ants more than spiders. It shows the power of evolution through natural selection. It is very likely that spiders are as good as insects at fooling potential predators.”

Good is good enough
Therefore the restrictions imposed on their bodies in that area play no role. Then what is the explanation? “There may be several factors involved. If predators, having learned to avoid ants, become risk-averse, they may also avoid animals that even remotely resemble ants to avoid danger. These predators never learn to recognize imperfect mimicry, so “Good is almost good enough” for spiders. In addition, predators may not see well, and therefore not notice the difference between a bad imitation and a good imitation.

“But there may also be disadvantages for a spider to change its body shape too much, so that it looks more like an ant. For example, a smaller body may mean that the female can lay fewer eggs at the same time. There may be less room for brain tissue in the body “Perfect imitators may not even be able to recognize potential mates because they resemble ants, or predators that eat ants may attack imitators because they look too much like ants,” McLean summarizes the defects of perfect imitation. Finally, it may be the case that imitators Imperfect people are still improving to become better.

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The power of evolution
The results tell something not only about the power of mimicry in nature, but also about evolution in general. “It was surprising that some spiders mimic exactly like insects and that this different body shape does not seem to limit evolution. These results do not only relate to our knowledge of imperfect mimicry, but also increase our understanding of evolution as a whole, because it seems that it can be overcome,” the researcher concludes. On constraints by sufficiently strong natural selection.