Life on earth comes in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colours. Our world contains a diversity of life forms so vast that it would take many lifetimes to scratch the surface if we tried to list them. Interestingly, many of the most wondrous discoveries of intriguing life forms are in the minuscule world of invertebrates. Amidst growing interest in macro photography and nature education, the number of people noticing the little things seems to be growing. This is evidenced by the fanfare raised each time a Chrysilla volupe (a vibrantly coloured jumping spider) is photographed. While some spiders like the Chrysilla dazzle us like a psychedelic dream, this is the story of a highly discrete spider that mostly goes unnoticed. How discrete? There is a reasonably good chance that most of us have blissfully walked past it without realising its presence. Spiders in the genus Poltys have evolved to look like twigs, leaves, or even dried seeds to remain hidden from potential predators during the day.
While most spiders in the Araneidae family spend the day hidden in a retreat (a silken safehouse established close to the site of their webs), Poltys choose to hide in plain sight by looking like twigs protruding out of plants, as seeds fallen on branches, or even as dried leaves. These adaptations make them incredibly hard to spot for both predators and curious spider enthusiasts. When you manage to decipher their camouflage and find a Poltys (with no intention of eating it), you will find yourself spiralling down a seemingly endless well of questions. Does the spider know it looks like a twig? How does it know that twigs love to spend their afternoons being perfectly inanimate? How did it figure out that its natural predators are not fond of twigs for lunch? Where can I get a Poltys outfit to camouflage myself at family events?