How Many Spiders Can You See in This Photo?

how many spiders in this photo two spiders

Scientists may have discovered one of the most astonishing camouflage strategies in the animal kingdom yet. So, how many spiders can you see in this photograph?

While it may look like only one spider is lurking on a flower in this photograph, there are actually two spiders.

At first, it seems that there is only a single small brown male spider on the flower. But in fact, the small brown male spider is resting on the top of the back of a much larger female spider.

A pair of researchers at Yunnan University, in China, took the photograph of the pair of spiders working together to resemble the image of a flower in a potential world first.

It is believed that this Thomisus guangxicus species of spider may have evolved so that a male-female pair together resembles a flower — helping them blend into the background and fooling both prey and predators.

“This may be the world’s first case of cooperative mimicry,” Dr Shi-Mao Wu at Yunnan University, who made the observation with his colleague Jiang-Yun Gao, tells New Scientist.

A Visual Deception

In a paper published this month, Wu and his colleague Gao revealed how they discovered this strange behavior while trekking through the tropical rainforest of Xishuangbanna, near the China-Laos border.

Wu first spotted a male spider resting on the flower of a Hoya pandurata, a plant that grows on tea trees. However, it was only after taking a closer look that he was able to see the much larger female beneath.

“When I first observed the male spider, I did not observe the female spider, they successfully deceived my eyes,” Wu tells New Scientist.

The researchers hypothesize that the smaller and darker male might mimic the pistil — the female organs in the center of the flower — while the female mimics the fused petals.

They only match the appearance of the flower when individual spiders of both sexes come together, the researchers say.

If this is true, it would be the first time that such cooperative mimicry has ever been observed.

However, scientist Gabriele Greco at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences isn’t convinced by the hypothesis — saying that it is common in many spider species for the males to stand on top of the females during mating.

“It is very difficult to establish the nature of the behavior that has been observed,” Greco tells New Scientist.

“The easier explanation could be a simple interaction linked to courtship and mating.”

Image credits: All photos by Shi-Mao Wu.