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What kind of a web is that?

July 20th, 2017

What kind of a web is that?

I’ve seen random debris get stuck in a spider’s web before. I mean it’s bound to happen at some point, right? Usually, however, I believe these stray pieces of stuff get caught in webs by accident. It’s not like a spider would actually go out and pick up tiny debris to litter all over their beautiful web…right? Well, for the most part that is correct. However, there are some spiders out there that specifically decorate their webs with all sorts of debris, and one in particular that even spins little bits of their web to look like bird poop. It took scientists a while to realize this because they just thought it was actual bird poop they were seeing on these webs, not some clever trick spun by a spider that is clearly more intelligent than we know…and possibly aliens that are slowly taking over the Earth…

Ok, nix on the aliens part (it could totally be possibly, though, admit it), but that fake web bird poop being made by spiders is totally real. Scientists decided to look a little closer at some of the bird poop they kept spotting on webs of the silver-colored orb-weaving spider known as Cyclosa ginnaga spiders down in the forests of Southeastern Asia and found something they couldn’t quite believe. For spiders there are two main purposes for their coloring and the way they spin their webs: they need to be flashy enough to draw in prey, but also not attract the attention of predators. Scientists observed that the C. ginnaga spider tends to build webs decorated with beautiful spirals and sprinkles of leaf debris, but scientists have had a difficult time figuring out whether they are meant to attract attention or camouflage these silvery spiders from predators.

One scientist from Taiwan noticed something odd about the appearance of their webs one day and decided to look further into it. He noticed that when looking at the web with the naked eye, the actual appearance of the spiders themselves on their web often looks strangely like bird poop. He wondered if maybe it was supposed to look like bird droppings, and this strange sight wasn’t an accident at all. Using a computer program that simulated the eyesight of bees, the scientist and his group compared the sight of these spiders sitting on their bird dropping spot and looking like bird droppings with actual bird droppings. When seen through the eyes of a bee or wasp, they found that the two were indistinguishable. It seems like these spiders actually spin a small section to look like bird poop when they are sitting on it, thus protecting them from attacks by predators such as wasps. The mixture of their coloring and the specific web spot made them blend in with their web and simply look like bird poop to any nearby predators. That’s pretty freaking clever if you ask me.

Have you ever seen things on a spider’s web that looked like one thing, but was actually part of the web when you looked closer? What other things might particular spiders use this tactic to camouflage themselves to look like?

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