A never-before-documented spider, likely a new species, was recently discovered in southwestern China's Yunnan rain forest. This unique spider has a very specific trait that explains why it has never been seen before: it looks just like a leaf when hanging from a branch.
Smithsonian Institution arachnologist Matjaz Kuntner only found the spider when he spotted a strand of silk in the light from his headlamp during an evening hike in the Yunnan. The silk was strangely attaching a leaf to a branch, so Kuntner decided to investigate. "If there's a web, there's a spider," Kuntner told . After carefully searching the branches, he realized that one of the leaves was in fact a spider. "I was so taken aback."
This new type of orb-weaving spider not only masquerades as a leaf, but it also gathers leaves from the forrest floor and hangs them from branches with its silk. When it nestles between the leaves it has hung up, it is incredibly difficult to pick the spider out from the surrounding foliage. The spider is brownish green like the leaves, shares the same teardrop shape, has a long necklike structure, and even has markings that resemble the veins on the variety of leaves it mimics.
The spider's technique for remaining hidden, either to stalk prey or avoid predators, is not technically camouflaging but masquerading. Camouflaging is the ability of an animal to appear invisible against its background, while masquerading is the practice of pretending to be something else entirely.
"Camouflage is about fooling the senses. Masquerading is about fooling the brain," John Skelhorn, an entomologist at the University of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the U.K., told . Masquerading is very common among insects, such as and , but it is less frequently observed in arachnids, and never before has a spider been found masquerading as a leaf. "A masquerade is much more likely to be successful if there are lots of examples of their disguise around them," explained Skelhorn, which explains the leaf spider's behavior of gathering real leaves to hide amongst.
In fact, the leaf-imitating spider is so good at its masquerade that only two have been found: the adult female that Kuntner found and a juvenile discovered in the same area after days of searching. Preliminary research outlined in the suggests that the leaf-imitating spider is a new biological species, but more study is needed to confirm this.
What other undiscovered creatures are hiding in the deep woods of the world?