Peruvian spider species builds decoys to distract prey, deter predators

Researchers at Tambopata National Reserve in Peru. REUTERS/Mariana BazoI've never given much credit to spiders, even though I've read The Hobbit numerous times and I'm creeped out — every time — by the intelligence of the eight-legged denizens of Mirkwood forest. However, after reading about a new spider discovery, I'm going to have to give credit where credit is due — a spider that builds decoys is one smart arachnid!

Biologist and entomology expert Phil Torres was working at the Tambopata Research Center, in southeast Peru, when he saw what he thought was a dead spider hanging in a web.

“It looked so spider-like, with eight legs. The spitting image of a spider,” he told the Toronto Star.

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Taking a closer look, this 'spider' turned out to be fake — made from twigs, leaves, left-over bits of insect, and mulch from the forest floor — but it suddenly moved! That's when he noticed the true inhabitant of the web, "this little guy going like crazy" at one corner, shaking the web so that the decoy in the middle moved.

"This behaviour has never been recorded. It’s not a rare thing for spiders to make designs in their web or to put debris in their web. This does appear to be the most advanced design," he said.

This design is of great use to the pea-sized arachnid. By building a larger than life effigy of itself, the tiny spider can not only scare off or distract predators that may seek to make a meal of it, but it can also distract its own prey and attack when they are focused on the larger decoy.

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Searching around the Center, he located 25 similar webs in just a one square kilometre field nearby, so this isn't just an isolated individual. He isn't calling this a new species, though, until his findings are verified by the scientific community.

"It may just be a very evolved spider that can follow rules."

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