A brown male spider (center) and a pale amber female just below, disguised as a flower (Credit: Shi-Mao Wu/ CC-BY-SA-2.0)

Environmental scientists Shi-Mao Wu and Jiang-Yun Gao were in a rainforest in China's Yuan Province when they noticed mosquitos buzzing around some flowers. Upon looking closer, the researchers realized they were looking at a male and a female crab spider. They had come together to resemble a single flower. The male spider was disguised as the pistils and stamens, while the female looked like the flower's lighter petals.

"When I first observed the male spider, I did not observe the female spider," says Wu. "They successfully deceived my eyes."

This female crab spider changed its color to white to blend in with the flower (Credit: Judy Gallagher/ CC-BY-2.0/ Wikimedia Commons)

Wu and Gao say it is common for female crab spiders to camouflage themselves to blend in with their floral environment. Some even change colors to match the flower on which they are sitting. The clever disguise protects them against predators and makes it easy to catch unsuspecting prey. But this behavior has rarely been observed in male crab spiders, which are smaller and darker in color than the females.

More importantly, this is the first evidence of cooperation mimicry in any species. This adaptation requires both participants to come together to create a convincing camouflage, which is difficult to achieve. Wu and Gao revealed their findings on March 1, 2024.

"This could be an example of "cooperation" that expands the niche of both females and males in mimicry systems. Cooperating individuals may have improved survivorship and predation efficiency," the researchers said.

Resources: newscientist.com, phys.org, ZMEscience.com