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Proc Biol Sci. 2010 Mar 7;277(1682):739-46. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2009.1632. Epub 2009 Nov 4.

Ineffective crypsis in a crab spider: a prey community perspective.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Chemin du Musée 10, CH-1700, Fribourg, Switzerland.


Cryptic coloration is assumed to be beneficial to predators because of an increased encounter rate with unwary prey. This hypothesis is, however, very rarely, if ever, studied in the field. The aim of this study was to quantify the encounter rate and capture success of an ambush predator, in the field, as a function of its level of colour-matching with the background. We used the crab spider Misumena vatia, which varies its body colour and can thereby match the colour of the flower it hunts upon. We carried out a manipulative field experiment using a complete factorial design resulting in six different colour combinations of crab spiders and flowers differing in their degree of colour-matching. A rich and diverse set of naturally occurring insects visited the flowers while we continuously video-recorded the spider's foraging activity. This enabled us to test the crypsis, the spider avoidance and the flower visitor attraction hypotheses, all three supported by previous studies. Flower visitors of different groups either avoided crab spiders independent of colour-matching, such as solitary bees and syrphid flies, or ignored them, such as bumble-bees and honeybees. Moreover, colour-matched spiders did not have a higher encounter rate and capture success compared to the visually apparent ones. Thus, our results support the spider avoidance hypothesis, reject the two other hypotheses and uncovered a fourth behaviour: indifference to predators. Because flower visitors reacted differently, a community approach is mandatory in order to understand the function of background colour-matching in generalist predators. We discuss our results in relation to the size and sociality of the prey and in relation to the functional significance of colour change in this predator.

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