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New species of ‘ant-mimicking’ spider found( The Hindu,04/07/2016)

A new species of spider, which mimics the characteristics of ants, has been discovered in the moist deciduous forest of the Wayanad wildlife sanctuary.

 

This spider, which lives along with ants in the corrugated bark of large trees, is difficult to differentiate from ants.

 

The lean male spider almost looks like slender ant (Tetraponera rufonigra), said A.V. Sudhikumar, head of Centre for Animal Taxonomy and Ecology (CATE) of Christ College, Irinjalakuda, near Thrissur, who led the team of researchers.

 

“It’s raised front legs during movement mimics the antennae of the ant. The spider uses this (Batesian mimicry) to escape from predators. As found only with ants, it is very difficult to spot this spider in a group of ants. In case of disturbance, it hides itself in the crevices of tree bark,” he said. It feeds on minute insects present in the crevices of tree bark.

 

This spider belongs to Aetius genus of the ant-mimicking spider family Corinidae.

 

Even though there are more than 200 variety of ant-mimicking spiders, this is first time a spider, which is so much similar to an ant, is being discovered, according to researchers.

 

The researchers noted that the mating process of the spider is also interesting.

 

“Compared to other members of the ant-mimicking spider family, the reproductive organs of male spider will bulge and turn around during the process of mating. The body of this spider is dark with white and orange tinges.

 

The male spider, which has white spines in its abdominal region moves rapidly along with ants. It is difficult to differentiate this spider from ants due to this swiftness,” said Mr. Sudhikumar

 

The projected white spines from the tip of the abdomen exactly resemble the prickly spine of ants.

 

This unique spider has been jointly discovered by researchers of the Centre for Animal Taxonomy and Ecology (CATE) of Christ College, Irinjalakuda, and the Oxford Museum of Natural History, London.

 

Funder by the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, the study was part of a project to explore the diversity of spiders in Kerala forests.

 

The study was led by Dr. Sudhikumar , head of CATE and Zoe Simmons of Oxford Museum of Natural History along with the research scholars Sudhin P.P. and K.S. Nafin.

 

This study will be published in the forthcoming volume of Zootaxa, an international science journal.