Cryptic color change in a crab spider (Misumena vatia): identification and quantification of precursors and ommochrome pigments by HPLC

J Chem Ecol. 2010 Apr;36(4):412-23. doi: 10.1007/s10886-010-9765-7. Epub 2010 Mar 12.


Mimicry is used widely by arthropods to survive in a hostile environment. Often mimicry is associated with the production of chemical compounds such as pigments. In crab spiders, the change of color is based on a complex physiological process that still is not understood. The aim of this study was to identify and quantify the ommochrome pigments and precursors responsible for the color change in the mimetic crab spider Misumena vatia (Thomisidae). A modified high performance reverse phase ion-pair chromatography technique enabled us to separate and quantify the ommochrome pigments, their precursors, and related metabolites in individual spiders. Compounds such as tryptophan, kynurenine, and kynurenic acid occurred only or mainly in white crab spiders. In contrast, compounds such as 3-hydroxy-kynurenine, xanthommatin, and ommatin D occurred only or mainly in yellow crab spiders. Factor analysis ranked the different color forms in accordance with their metabolites. The biochemical results enabled us to associate the different phases of formation of pigment granules with specific metabolites. Yellow crab spiders contain many unknown ommochrome-like compounds not present in white crab spiders. We also found large quantities of decarboxylated xanthommatin, whose role as precursor of new pathways in ommochrome synthesis needs to be assessed. The catabolism of ommochromes, a process occurring when spiders revert from yellow to white, warrants further study.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological*
  • Animals
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Female
  • Phenothiazines / metabolism*
  • Pigments, Biological / metabolism*
  • Spiders / metabolism*


  • Phenothiazines
  • Pigments, Biological
  • ommochrome