Chemical mimicry of the ant Oecophylla smaragdina by the myrmecophilous spider Cosmophasis bitaeniata: Is it colony-specific?
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Workers of most social insects can distinguish between nestmates and non-nestmates, and actively attack the latter if they attempt to intrude into the nest or surrounding territory. Nevertheless, there are many records of heterospecific organisms living within the nests of social insects, and they are thought to gain access through chemical mimicry. The salticid spider Cosmophasis bitaeniata lives within the leaf nests of the ant Oecophylla smaragdina, where it preys on the ant larvae. We investigated, using behavioural bioassays and chemical analyses, whether the previously reported resemblance of the cuticular hydrocarbons of ant and spider was colony-specific. Behavioural experiments revealed that the spiders can distinguish between nestmate and non-nestmate major workers and are less inclined to escape when confined with ants that are nestmates. More significantly, C. bitaeniata were more likely to capture ant larvae from nestmate minor workers than non-nestmate minor workers. The chemical analyses revealed that the cuticular hydrocarbon profiles of the spiders and the major workers of the ant colonies were colony-specific. However, the hydrocarbon profiles of C. bitaeniata do not match those of the major workers of O. smaragdina from the same colony. Perhaps the colony-specific cuticular hydrocarbon profiles of C. bitaeniata function to obtain prey from the minor workers rather than avoid eliciting aggression from the major workers.