What do an escaped panther and a vegetarian spider have in common?

Their name! The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling features a black panther (or a black-toned Indian leopard) called Bagheera, who offered protection and guidance to a human child named Mowgli. Bagheera had once lived in captivity before making his escape and returning to the jungle; he has a better understanding of humans than most of the jungle-dwelling animals that he and Mowgli encounter.

Bagheera from The Jungle Book

Illustration by W. H. Drake, The Two Jungle Books anthology, 1895

In homage to The Jungle Book, a species of spider has been named bagheera kiplingi. No matter that the spider lives not in India but Central America.

A vegetarian spider? Really?

Bagheera kiplingi live in acacia trees which produce their food: a nutrient-rich nub on the ends of the leaves. Scientists believe the nubs are produced to attract ants, in a symbiotic relationship between plant and animal: the tree feeds the ants, and the ants keep away other herbivores. What’s remarkable about bagheera kiplingi is that they ignore the ants and feed on the nubs instead, making them the only known spider species that’s predominantly vegetarian. But their diet isn’t wholly animal-free: they occasionally eat ant larvae, and other bagheera kiplingi as well. Cannibalisation, however, is just a ‘sometimes’ food!

Archived under Science & Nature.

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