I love mimicry, for it shows very graphically the power of natural selection, and is one of the few cases in which we can judge how close natural selection can take an animal or plant toward its “optimum”—which is presumably to resemble as closely as possible the creature it’s mimicking. These examples of ant-mimicking arthropods were taken by the inimitable myrmecologist and photographer Alex Wild; they’re part of a collection of 24 ant-mimics you can see here. You can also buy prints of these, and do keep an eye on Alex’s great website Myrmecos.
Non-ant arthropods mimic ants for a variety of reasons, including hiding from predators by looking like part of an ant swarm, deterring predators by resembling toxic ants that predators have learned to avoid, and preying on ants by sneaking up on them by resembling a member of their species. Alex has examples of all three forms.
The captions below each photo are also Alex’s.
First, a spider mimicking a toxic ant (note that it has 7 and not six legs; the eighth was apparently lost) to avoid predation. Remember, this is a spider, for crying out loud!
This is one of the more amazing mimics I’ve seen:
A spider (left) mimicking an ant on which it preys. Note the fake “eyespot” on the spider’s abdomen, presumably so it looks like an ant from either end:
Another case of “Batesian mimicry,” in which an edible prey item (the spider) evolves to mimic a toxic “model” (the stinging ant) because birds learn to avoid anything that looks like an ant. Note that this looks nothing like what you think of as a spider. Note, too, the forward placement of the first pair of legs to resemble antennae.
Jumping spiders often mimic ants on which (I think) they prey. Here’s a remarkable resemblance showing how far an animal can be modified by natural selection.
Finally, a crab spider (on the left) mimicking the ant on which it is nomming. This shows that ants can clearly see other insects, and discriminate against those that look “wrong.”