Not the ant I thought it was…

High on my to-do list in Ecuador was Pachycondyla villosa. This is a large, wasp-like predatory ant coated with fine golden hairs. After some looking, one morning I finally spotted a worker foraging in the understory at Jatun Sacha. I came in for a closer look:

Sphecotypus niger

Approaching within ten inches I realized something wasn’t right. Even though the animal moved just like P. villosa, and even though the sun glinted off its elongate body at just the right hue, the antennae were slightly…weird.

They were, in fact, an extra pair of legs. I had found Sphecotypus niger, an ant-mimicking spider.

Here’s a shot of true Pachycondyla villosa, the model:

Pachycondyla villosa

Why mimic this ant? My personal experience is that the first thing most people notice about P. villosa is THE STING REALLY HURTS. I’m not kidding. It’s like a honey bee x 4.

The smarter predators in the forest leave Pachycondyla well enough alone, and the perfectly harmless spider presumably avoids a fair amount of predation as a mimic.

(Thanks to Jonathan Reiskind for confirming the ID.)

photo details:
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro lens on a Canon EOS 7D
Diffuse external strobe

14 thoughts on “Not the ant I thought it was…”

  1. I love insect mimicry! The first thing I noticed in the photo was that the eyes were on the top of the head and not on the sides. Very convincing, though!

  2. Does the spider prey upon the ants at all, or the mimicry completely for defense purposes? Your photography is a pure joy I must say.

    1. If the mimicry was directed at the ants, it wouldn’t have to be so visually exact. It’s apparently meant to fool sharp-eyed birds.

  3. Great photos. Yet another amazing mimicry. I can never tell with just naked eyes so I always confirm by peeping through my macro lens 😀

  4. Camponotus sericeiventris also looks a lot like P. villosa… P. villosa may be a model for other large ant species in this area.

  5. Pretty spectacular spider! Without the eyes, palps, and fake antennae I would have been completely suckered, and at first I thought the central eyes were ocelli. I guess the spider couldn’t really afford the cost of reducing the length of legs I (probably critical for prey sensing and capture – with those tiny eyes I doubt it’s much of a visual hunter), but perhaps the pale tarsi are part of the costume and make the legs look more like ant antennae. Hmm, green vegetation and live arthropods – definitely not Alberta.

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