The spider that wants to be an ant

Would Spider-Man ever want to be Ant-Man? Some would say no, but in the natural world, spiders want to be ants.

In the small world of creepy crawlies, if you were to assume that spiders are most feared by all other creepy crawlies, you would be wrong. In fact, as it turns out, spiders often end up being dinner for many animal predators, big and small.

But some spider species have evolved to have clever solutions that help them avoid being eaten and avoid detection by predators. And it involves them mimicking other creepy crawlies, like ants.

Yes, as strange as it sounds, some spiders pretend to be ants so that they can survive for just a little longer in the natural world.

When there’s one ant, there’s many more. But for spiders, this isn’t the case. Source: @tayhifi5,

Importance of community

So, why would spiders pretend to be ants? Well, ants have a few attributes that other animals would find undesirable.

First, ants are aggressive, and when they bite, their venom can cause all sorts of problems for the predator.

But more importantly, where there’s one ant, there’s 100 more, and 1,000 more after that, which means that a predator who fancies an ant dinner faces the prospect of 100’s of stinging bites from ants who are none too pleased with the predator trying to eat one of their colleagues.

This type of community is something that spiders can only aspire to. Any why? Spiders tend to do their best work by themselves, which might go some way to explaining why Spider-Man was never made a formal member of the Avengers in the MCU. (I know he was offered the chance to join, but he turned it down, and rightly so in my opinion. Working with Tony Stark and Vision at the Avengers compound is overrated.)

And while spiders have venom that can subdue the prey they chase, it can have little or no effect on the larger predators after them – such as wasps or birds.

So, for the loner, vulnerable spiders it’s in their interest to pretend to be ants, because the predators will leave them alone under the false pretence that 1,000 more ants might lie in wait to ambush them if they attack their ‘colleague’.

Ant transformation

You might already be thinking about one big ‘leg’ issue that a spider would need to overcome if it were to disguise itself as an ant. Spiders have 8 legs and no antennae, but ants have 6 legs and two antennae.

Here’s where spider intelligence and evolutionary problem solving come to the fore. To overcome the antennae deficiency and the excess legs problem, spiders use their front legs to approximate the antennae and then move their other 6 legs in a way to somewhat match the distribution of ant legs. It’s a genius solution!

One type of spider that pretends to be an ant is the jumping spider, while sun spiders, flower spiders, and ant spiders (yes really, and unsurprisingly to be honest) all like to mimic ants.

Next time you see an ant, take a closer look. You can have spotted a spider wanting to be an ant!

More information

Learn more about the research on spiders that want to be ants in this recent news article on Science Daily.

In addition, check out a recent paper in relation to fossils of ant-mimicking spiders preserved in copal that were found in Colombia. Unfortunately you’ll need a subscription to access this paper.

Barry W. Fitzgerald, March 2024.