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Jan. 17, 2013

A Spider Charade

by Sam Flatow

Click to enlarge images
The octopus might be the king of camouflage, but if there’s an animal whose name is synonymous with deception, it’s the spider. Some use invisible nets. Others bury themselves in sand. And the trapdoor spider is famous for its traps, its doors, and its ability to startle David Attenborough—a man who wrestled gorillas.
 
But while studying the Peruvian Amazon, biologist and science educator Phil Torres has found what could be the the trickiest of them all —a spider that creates dummy arachnids more than four times its own size out of debris, leaves, and discarded prey. This new, nameless spider even shakes these giant marionettes to create the illusion of life.

“This is the first record of an animal constructing a larger, elaborate decoy animal,” he wrote in an email to Science Friday. “This type of complicated behavior is also surprising coming from something like a spider, as opposed to animals that we typically associate with more complex behavior, such as birds or mammals.”

It’s unclear why the spider sets the stage this way, but Torres says that other spiders of the same genus, Cyclosa, have a similar trick—they build and hide among balls of debris that serve as decoys to distract predators looking for a bite.

Torres calls the fakes “surprisingly accurate.” But if you ask me, some look a bit... sad (like the picture below).
 
{"input":{"width":490,"photo":"SadSpider","row":"4597","table":"DOCUMENT"}}

If sneaky spiders are your thing, a live video stream is in the works, so you’ll be able to watch a little arachnid puppetry too. You can also keep up with Phil Torres on his Twitter.
About Sam Flatow

Sam is an assistant producer at Science Friday where he prepares the tasty SciFri snacks and blogs about smart cephalopods and zombie ants.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

Science Friday® is produced by the Science Friday Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Science Friday® and SciFri® are registered service marks of Science Friday, Inc. Site design by Pentagram; engineering by Mediapolis.

 

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