Meet the half ant, half jumping spider, and totally mean, Weaver Ant-Mimicking Jumping Spider Myrmarachne plataleoides that I photographed in my home garden yesterday.
As soon as I stumbled it, I could see through its cunning disguise by noting that it had four pairs of legs like in a spider, as opposed to three pairs of legs like a plain vanilla ant.
The elongate body size meant it was a male of this jumping spider.
Contributing to its elongate design was its long protruding spatulate “jaws”—the ends of which were fitted with a pair of needle-sharp fangs that could deliver a fatal stabbing to its victims.
So with no venom, they use their heavy machinery in front to overpower their prey first, before stabbing them repeatedly with their needle sharp fangs to suck their juices. Often while the victim is still alive.
The females of this species, on the other hand, having settled for a simpler body design—looking strikingly similar to a typical Weaver Ant Oecophylla smaragdina ("Dimiya")—have retained potent venom in their fangs. And they inject it to incapacitate their victims first, before drinking the liquefied juices thereafter, the regular way.
Those gleaming cute eyes that you see at the proximal sides of the male’s oversized “jaws” are fakes to make it appear like an ant.
It’s real jumper eyes—four pairs of them—are situated further back, where its actual head is placed.
The appearance of the male looks remarkably like a larger Weaver Ant carrying a smaller cousin. Which in real Weaver Ant world is a done thing, with major workers transporting minor workers in their complex social structure to fulfill various daily duties. So this physical appearance of the males also copies a vocational behaviour of the Weaver Ants in an ever so clever way.
This jumper was found in an endemic "Wal-idda" tree, which is peculiarly named in botany as Walidda antidysenterica.
This tree had a fair number of Weaver Ants that this jumping spider was trying to copy.
Underneath the leaves, this tree also had a fair number of scaled insects, which feed on plant juices, sucking them directly from the plant's vascular system. After doing that, they pass out a honeydew—a sugary excretion, which the many species of ants, including Weaver Ants, find irresistible.
So this explains the presence of Weaver Ants and the Weaver-Ant-mimicking jumping spider on the same tree. As many other species of ants, Weaver Ants mainly prey on small insects, and turn to honeydew offerings of leaf-dwelling insects to supplement their diet with more carbohydrates. These sugar addicts drawn to trees infested with scaled insects in return give these defenseless insects with much needed protection from their natural predators such as lady bugs and hover flies.
The "Wal-idda" tree in question had no Weaver Ant nests. As a result, the ants were less temperamental and gave me no trouble. Of course there were warnings given by the odd individual with its "cutting edge" mandibles agape to intimidate me.
Photographing jumpers is challenging business because they are too jerky and jumpy, resulting in pictures with the subject badly composed, blurred, or missing altogether! The other thing is they jump on to the lens and the flash heads when you get too close.
Compared with all of them, I found Myrmarachne plataleoides incredibly easy to work with because it was very calm in its disposition. It was slow and confident, just like an undisturbed Weaver Ant.
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