Hosted by Sandra Tsing Loh, The Loh Down on Science is a fun way to get your daily dose of science plus a dash of humor in less than two minutes.
Hosted by Sandra Tsing Loh
Airs Weekdays 2:43 and 3:43 a.m.

Master Masquerader

Bird poop or spider web?
Bird poop or spider web?
Min-Hui Liu

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Don’t step in that bird poop!  It’s alive!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, talking about the orb-web spider.

This arachnid evades its predators by disguising itself – indeed  – as bird poop!

Picture bird poop.  It's usually a splatter of white with some small blobs of dark.  Gross, right?

Well, the orb-web spider is light colored with dark markings.  So it weaves a thick, spiky-edged web of white silk that looks like poop splatter.  Then it sits on top, its markings showing up as dark blobs.  What a skilled masquerade artist!

I-Min Tso, a behavioral ecologist in Taiwan, analyzed how well the spider's disguise hides it from predatory wasps. 

When Tso's team video recorded the spiders in their natural surroundings, the video showed that the wasps couldn't make out the spider amid the faux droppings.

But when the researchers colored the spider’s body or the web black?  The wasps easily spotted the spiders and attacked!

Ah well.  Spider or bird poop?  It might make a novel Halloween costume.  You’ll likely be the only one wearing it.

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.