Wasmannian Mimicry – Killing with a confusion cloud
The art of tracking your prey, lulling them to a placid state by enacting a false sense of solidarity, and then finally springing the trap – all are the traits of a master assassin, as seen with a jumping spider and an ant.
It was a cloudy morning. I was going for the morning’s first macro session. The overcast day was looking dull , which made me feel like it will be a blank macro day. When I arrived at the spot it looked completely dull due to the overcast weather. Confirming my initial doubts, there were no sign of any species that I could take on as my macro subject. I roamed here and there with my companion photographers, when suddenly, one of them called me to see a unique jumping spider.
My relationship with jumping spiders till this point was conflicted. I have seen them many times, but was never comfortable in getting their shots. Getting a fair shot of a jumping spider was a critical task for me because of their habit of jumping on the lens. The lesson I got from these incidents was, either these jumping spiders were attracted to reflective elements or black coloured objects. Many a times, I saw them for a second, and then they vanished within a blink of an eye. The greatest misfortune that I had till then was inability of getting a glimpse of them while they were on their hunt. Jumping spiders hunt once in a week or two and hence, spotting one with a hunt is a tough job. Jumping spiders are one of the most critical creatures on this planet. Having no host spaces, these creatures are vagabond, doesn’t make web to hunt for their food and neither stay in a single web for long. Generally these spiders are not open hunters, i.e. I never observed it to hunt in an open space. As I said earlier, that day fate had something else for me. I was lucky to see the whole action scene of a hunt by the spider.
The jumping spider was constantly moving to and fro near an ant. It seemed as if the spider was behaving in an odd way. Standing in front of the ant and sometimes moving by its side, it was looking like the spider behaved like an ant. Despite it not being an ant mimicking jumping spider (it belonged to the siler sp.), it could make the ant feel that it was an ant. The spider moved around the ant for some time, walking by its side up and down the stem and then stood in front of it. If the spider had looked like a predator to the ant, it would have run away for its life. This is an intelligent habit of a predator to copy the chemical signals of its prey to make it feel like it belongs to the same species as they are. Here, the predator behaves like its prey and confuses the latter so that it becomes easy for them to hunt. Thus copying the chemical signals of the ant, the spider made sure that the ant won’t run away, thinking of the predator as a friend of the same species and won’t cause any harm to itself. Making it simple, in this case, the jumping spider made the ant feel that it is an ant too, using the art of “WASMANNIAN MIMICRY”. I saw the ant being as if hypnotised by the spider with this technique. Suddenly, it started pulling the antlers of the ant. It took a step forward and pulled one antler then again stepped backward. This was the continuous movement of the spider to avoid the fangs of the ant. All this drama was happening on the stem of a bush. The spider hence got a chance to move in a circular motion around the stem to avoid the visuals of the ant. Suddenly the spider hopped on the ant, but instead of putting its fangs, it went under the leaves again. It came out after a moment but this time the ant was too weak to move. The jumping spider came out and started pulling its antlers and suddenly stabbed its fangs in the back of the ant’s head. It was rather a big hunt for the spider to carry alone. After it got hold of the ant, it was still alive and was throwing its legs to get away somehow. But the predator over here is a master. The jumping spider pulled it all the way from the stem to a moderate sized leaf.
The biggest issue that I was facing by now was light and to get a clear view of it. The constant and agile movement of the spider made it almost impossible for me to keep a constant track of his movement. On the other hand, it was avoiding the sunlight, never coming out to an open space for me to get a clear shot. From the task of getting some light in the shadowy region beneath the leaf, to tracking the spider with its hunt, was an utmost difficult task. From my past 3 years experience of wildlife photography I knew that jumping spiders easily leave their prey, once disturbed. So I was more careful that I mustn’t touch a leaf because that would make the jumper leave its hunt. Till the spider came to the leaf with its hunt, the ant was alive, and slowly it stopped thrashing the legs and surrendered itself to the one who is stronger.
I never knew about this assassination stunt and habit being performed by hunters and predators widely in the insect world. There could be even more techniques possessed by the insects and the small creatures, that they use to meet their daily needs. There are surely so many species yet to be discovered. But the extinction rate might not leave any creature down on planet and we humans will be responsible for it. We must work soon enough before it is too late. There is so much yet to be discovered in this yet beautiful planet called Earth.
Read also: Ant and Blue Caterpillar
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