Camouflage – The Art of survival in the wilderness
Surviving in the wild is a challenge all animals have to cleverly manage. Some literally hide in plain sight, incredibly camouflaging themselves, some animals not only evade danger but may also become a danger themselves by seizing unaware prey.
For the creatures living on the bark of a tree, they not only have to match the colours, but also mimic the pattern and the texture of the bark. Several creatures manage to do this with astonishing results. There are lizards, moths, and caterpillars, which can be missed if barks are not properly scanned. While merging with the bark, some creatures manage to achieve the dual benefits of camouflage, hiding from both, their predator and their prey.
One such uncanny example of camouflaging on a bark is a group of spiders known as two-tailed spiders, which belong to the genus Hersilia and are found in forests of Africa, Asia, and Australia. These spiders have two elongated spinnerets at the rear end of their abdomen, which earns them the name ‘two-tailed spiders’. Another name for this group of spiders is ‘bark spiders’, which, given their spot on camouflage on barks of trees, can also be deemed appropriate. The cephalothorax and the abdomen are both cryptically coloured, with several depressions and projections to enhance their camouflage. Their super-sensitive legs are thin and long, making it difficult to be easily visible. Two-tailed spiders vary in size, ranging from just a few millimeters across, to about 5 cm from one out-stretched leg to another.
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Unlike most other spiders, two-tailed spiders do not build elaborate webs to catch their prey. They instead use their camouflage while hunting. The area surrounding the spider on the bark is covered with thin threads of spider silk. Any creature making movements on the bark within the spider’s reach triggers the alarm, and the hidden predator springs into action.
Another micro-predator, which too lives on the bark, and just like the two-tailed spider, uses its camouflage to a dual advantage (hiding from predators and prey) is a group of mantises called bark mantises. In fact, mantises belonging to several different genera, which are able to camouflage themselves on barks of trees, are commonly referred to as bark mantises.
In India, most bark mantises you would find belong to the genus Humbertiella. Usually, the entire body of a bark mantis is covered with numerous tiny spots and specs, which enhances the insect’s camouflage on the bark. Similarly, the projections, sticking out from various corners of the body, also help in concealing the location of the mantis.
Interestingly, unlike the two-tailed spiders, bark mantises employ a completely different strategy to hunt their prey. All mantises, including bark mantises, have excellent colour vision. They can detect shapes and movement much better than even humans. They two large eyes are in fact compound eyes, made up of numerous cells, forming a peripheral vision for the mantis. This enables the flat-looking mantis to even look over its shoulder at an approaching predator, and take evasive action, if necessary. Like any other mantis, the two front legs of the bark mantis are converted into grasping appendages. These two raptorial legs are held close to the body. Once the mantis is within striking range of its prey, in one lightning-fast motion, the mantis stretches its front legs and grabs its unwary victim.
Both these amazing predators can actually be encountered close to human habitations as well. A closer look at barks of trees in an urban forested area or even a small green patch of a garden might reveal the presence of not just two-tailed spiders and bark mantises, but may be of other creatures hiding in open sight. You just need to look carefully.
Cover Pic: Two-tailed spider with prey
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