Don't worry, chances are you have just seen a Leaf Insect.
A Nymph of a Phyllium sp. that mimics a leaf.Oh, and that 'ant' you saw? Nope. It is an ant-mimicking Jumping Spider (Mymarachne plataleoides). Image on the right.
Surprised? Don't be. There are probably thousands of invertebrates that mimic other animals and plants and some might even be living right under your nose! These animals use Crypsis (a collective term for avoiding observation from other organisms, which includes camouflage and mimicry) as a predation strategy or to avoid being eaten. So don't take it personally; They are not here to fool us humans for a couple of laughs. They are merely using what Mother Nature has given to live another day, find a mate and die happy. Whatever the motivation, one thing is for sure - They are all amazing!
Here is Part 1 of the Top 5 Insects and Spiders that mimic, all found right here in Singapore. Check them out!
Number 5 - THE FEARLESS, HOMODES BRACTEIGUTTA
Despite the similar-sounding last name, this moth caterpillar has nothing to do with the famous DJ, David Guetta. This caterpillar, in my opinion, has ten times the cool factor compared to the latter with its brazen and slightly suicidal ability to mimic its role-model, a species of predatory ants called the Asian Red Weaver Ant (Oecophylla smaragdina).
What a brave cutie.This caterpillar is roughly the same size and it can often be found hanging out near the ant's nest. It is amazing to see these formidable ants move past the caterpillars without a hint of hesitation or suspicion. Pure luck? I do not think so. I have seen beetles and lizards being ripped apart by the Army ants for being too close to the nest. Good job, caterpillar! You made it at Number 5 on my list for being crazy and cute at the same time.
Number 4 - THE ETHICAL PRO, MYMARACHNE MAXILLOSA
Unlike the caterpillar at number 5, this spider from the Salticidae family, actually does look very much like its role-model, the Golden-Tailed Ant (Polyrhachis ammon). So much so that it actually fooled me the first time I went searching for them. It is almost perfect in its mimicry of the ants from a physiological perspective, considering that it is afterall a spider and not an intra-order relative.
Right: Here you can see a bed of pseudoscorpions feeding on a dead Polyrhachis ammon.
A female Mymarachne maxillosa. Notice how it raised its front legs to mimic the antennas of ants.
A male Mymarachne maxillosa with an enlarged Chelicerae. Note the shade of Gold on its body.
I have spent numerous hours in the forest studying these insects and from my observations, these spiders would generally avoid getting close to these ants and instead use its mimicry as a form personal protection. Like its Red Weaver cousins, these Golden-Tailed ants are fearsome predators and would not hesitate to attack anything that comes too close. The Mymarachne maxillosa earns a spot on my list for being such a conscience imposter for not preying on what it mimics - Very ethical, indeed. Here is a short video I made on these ants. *Click to Enlarge*
Well, this is refreshing. Finally, a spider that mimics something else other an ant. This Orb-weaving spider would lie in wait in the centre of its web for a prey item to pass by but when danger comes, it would immediately retreat to a leaf and does its best impression of, well, an excrement.
"Having a bad day at work today, bro? You look like sh**."
Yes, it mimics bird poop - Disgusting but it works. Nothing looks (and probably tastes) worse than freshly-produced poop.
Number 2 - THE NINJA WARRIOR, ODONTOMANTIS SP.
These insects are from Order Mantodea, and are often described as Ninjas of the insect world for their stealthy and calculated approach towards hunting their prey. Commonly known as the 'Praying Mantis', they use their front two grasping "raptorial" legs (which resembles someone saying a prayer) to snatch their prey at lightning speed.
Here you have the tiny nymph of the Odontomantis sp. that mimics their favourite prey, ants. It engages in Myrmercomorphy, not only get to close to its prey items but as a form of protective mimicry against much larger predators.Sometimes, role-reversal happens in nature where the hunter becomes the hunted, like the case of this unidentified Mantis, presumably an adult.
Here is a short video I made of an Odontomantis sp., hunting an ant.
Number 1 - THE SHADOW, PARAPLECTANA SP.
One of the thrills of exploring uncharted pockets of nature is the discovery of potentially new and undescribed species. During one of my recent exploratory hikes with friends from MFS, we chanced upon a spider so rare that to date, there is only one other photo reference available on the Internet of a specimen captured in Hong Kong.
Here is the first ever photo record of the Yellow Morph of a Ladybug Mimic Spider (Paraplectana sp.), here in Singapore. Credits to MFS for this amazing find!
It was hiding underneath a blade of grass.
A rear shot with a clear view of the spinnerets, the organ that is used to spin their web.
These spiders, like its name suggests, mimic Epilachna indica, a traditional-looking ladybug found here in Singapore. Predators like birds would generally stay away from brightly-coloured insects, and a ladybug crawling on a leaf would probably appear extremely unpalatable to them.
Congratulations to the highly-elusive Ladybug Mimic Spider (Paraplectana sp) for making it to the top spot on my Top 5 list of Insects and Spiders that Mimic!