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From crypsis to masquerade: ontogeny changes the colour defences of a crab spider hiding as bird droppings

Citation

Yu, Long et al. (2022), From crypsis to masquerade: ontogeny changes the colour defences of a crab spider hiding as bird droppings, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.8pk0p2nnr

Abstract

Selection imposed by visually-hunting predators has driven the evolution of colour-based antipredator defence strategies such as crypsis, masquerade, mimicry and aposematism. Individuals of many animals are generally considered to rely on a single type of defence strategy, but individuals of some species use multiple colour-based defences. Many animals switch between colour-based defences against visually-hunting predators during ontogeny. However, why this occurs remains poorly understood.

The crab spider Phrynarachne ceylonica is an often-cited example of a bird dropping masquerade. It has recently been demonstrated that P. ceylonica crab spiders gain protection from their predators by being misidentified as bird droppings by their predators. P. ceylonica females show an ontogenetic shift in colour defences: early instars possess a dark and cryptic form, while at later instars and as adults, the spiders resemble bird droppings. We hypothesised that this shift may be driven by differential changes in predation risk of two defence strategies with increasing body size due to ontogeny.

We tested this hypothesis by presenting naïve domestic chicks with 3D printed artificial spiders of two different sizes (small, large) and two colours (dark, bird dropping-like), and determined if larger bird dropping-like spiders are more readily found and attacked than cryptic forms by chicks. We found that small cryptic spiders were more difficult to detect than small bird dropping masquerading spiders, but large cryptic spiders were attacked much more quickly and more frequently than large bird dropping masquerading spiders.

Increasing predation pressure on larger, cryptic spiders during ontogeny suggests that switching to bird dropping masquerade may be a more effective defence as spiders increase in size. We thus conclude that the ontogenetic shift from crypsis to masquerade is adaptive.

Funding

National Natural Science Foundation of China, Award: 31872229

Ministry of Education - Singapore, Award: R-154-000-B18-114

National Natural Science Foundation of China, Award: 31801979

National Natural Science Foundation of China, Award: 32070430