Spider Species Makes Sculptures Of Itself With Leaves And Insect Corpses, Possibly As Predator Decoy

By Josh Lieberman on January 22, 2014 7:15 PM EST

fake spider
Spiders building fake spiders have been observed in Peru and the Philippines. Above, a fake spider alongside its real version--pretty convincing, no? (Photo: YouTube screenshot)

If you're terrified of spiders, feel free to click "close tab" now. Spiders in Peru have been caught on tape doing something unthinkable: they're using dead leaves and insects to build "sculptures" of themselves. Is it art? Who knows. Is it terrifying? Most definitely. 

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The fake spiders were first discovered in the Peruvian Amazon in 2012. The sculptures were created by what may be a new species of Cyclosa, and the purpose of these sculptures isn't yet known. According to biologist Phil Torres, who made the 2012 discovery, the fake spiders may serve to trick predators. 

"You could call it a spider decoy, in a sense," Torres wrote in 2012. "The spiders arrange debris along specialized silk strands called stabilimenta in a symmetrical form that makes it look almost exactly like a larger spider hanging in the web. Studies have found that some Cyclosa species have a higher survival rate against potential predators like paper wasps because the wasps end up attacking the debris in the web rather than the spider itself."

In the new video, Destin from the YouTube channel SmarterEveryDay went to Peru to document the fake spiders. He found plenty of them. Destin notes that it's "mind-blowing" that the spider has created a version of itself with not only an accurate amount of legs (eight, of course), but that it's even created a pretty realistic looking replica of its abdomen and cephalothorax (the part of a spider where the head and thorax fuse together). 

But wait, there's more. Not only does this Peruvian spider create these fake versions of itself, but so does another spider 11,000 miles away, on the island of Negros in the Philippines. That's led scientists to wonder all kinds of things about this fake spider business: Are there multiple species building fake spiders? Is this the same species 11,000 miles apart? Is this an example of convergent evolution?     

Lary Reeves, an entomologist who found the spider-building-spider in the Philippines, said there are differences between the way the Philippine and Peruvian spiders build their fake versions. "The Philippine species and the Peruvian species, they both makes these decoys, but the architecture is different," said Reeves. He noted that the legs of the fake Philippine spiders stretch out from the body in all directions, while the Peruvian version's legs all point downward.

According to Wired, both Reeves and Torres believe it's possible that spiders all over the world create fake versions of themselves, and that they've just been the ones to hit upon it. "I don't think it's surprising that this happening," said Reeves. "I think that no one's noticed in the past is surprising."

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