Animals have evolved hundreds of ways to hide from predators and their potential prey. Camouflaging is one of the best ways. One particular species of spider that looks uncannily like a piece of foliage had managed to hide for so long until recently when its cover was blown as it happened to fall into the path of Matjaž Kuntner, an arachnologist from the Smithsonian Institute, whose job it is to examine spiders.
Who knew that an old leaf of a tree could turn out to be a spider?
“Its disguise is so good that it might explain why so few of these spiders have been collected. Even trained scientists have a hard time spotting them,” Kuttner states.
This unusual specimen was found in China’s Yunnan rainforest back in January 2011 and appears to belong to a genus of orb-web spider called Poltys. Yet unlike all other species belonging to this genus, this particular spider displays expert camouflaging. Speaking of which, Kuntner and colleagues have only found two leaf-mimicking spiders so far: The adult female observed on the evening hike, and a juvenile one found a few days later.
Several other insects, including grasshoppers and praying mantises, have known to disguise themselves as plants to confuse other animals. However, this is the first time a leaf masquerade has been seen in an arachnid.
Describing the find, Kuntner and his colleagues reveal that the female spider was both brown and green, and its abdomen resembled a dead leaf ventrally and a live green leaf dorsally. Rather than spinning the web, this strange spider disguises itself as part of a pile of leaves.
Despite two weeks of searching, only two were found, and the fact that this spider is so hard to come by indicates that either it is extremely rare, or its disguise is so effective that even professional arachnologists struggle to spot it.
The findings were reported in a new study, though the spider is yet to be assigned a species name.
There is so much to be learned about this amazing leaf imitator, and considering how difficult it was to find them, the researchers are trying to know more of it. The mysterious spider’s habits and nocturnal lifestyle enabled it to avoid not only predators but researchers as well successfully.
The findings were originally published on Nov. 11 in the Journal of Arachnology.