Picture of Alexis Dodson

Alexis Dodson, MS Student

I am a Master’s student in the Morehouse Lab where I study evolutionary mechanisms of imperfect mimicry. A lifelong fascination with animals typically considered “icky” led to undergraduate research on arachnid mating at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, where I also obtained a B.S. in Biology with Minors in Applied Statistics and Psychology. I joined the Morehouse team in 2017 where I have become fascinated by questions about how animals manage conflicts between natural and sexual selection. During my tenure at the Morehouse Lab, I have also developed a passion for education and outreach.  When I’m not chasing spiders around the lab, I enjoy helping cats through a local Trap Neuter Return program, karaoke, and roller skating. 

 2017-present Masters Biological Sciences, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH 

 2014-2017 B.S. BiologyMinors Applied Statistics and Psychology, University of Michigan – Dearborn, Dearborn, MI 

Tetragnatha spiders mating

Current Research

My current research is focuses on an evolutionary mechanism for imperfect mimicry in the jumping spider ant mimic, Synemosyna formica. There are numerous hypotheses for why imperfect mimicry exists. One group of hypotheses looks at the role of the perceptual features of potential audiences in their environment. For example, while it may be beneficial in the context of predation to have a perfectly mimetic signal, this may be costly during courtship if the animal is not recognized as a mate by other mimics. Likewise, one might also expect that different predators may exert different selective pressures based on their perceptual abilities. These audiences may also view S. formica from distinct locations in the environment. For example, one might expect that potential mates, tending to exist in the same plane, might view each other from lateral vantage point, whereas larger and/or airborne predators like birds or wasps might view mostly dorsal features of S. formicaMy research examines the color and shape of S. formica within the context of the perceptual abilities of different audiences in S. formica’s environment from lateral and dorsal vantage points.  

When looking at imperfect mimicry we must also consider how the behavior of the mimic is similar or dissimilar to the animal it resemblesIt is likely that S. formica not only uses mimetic morphology to avoid predation, but also locomotory mimicry. To examine the role S. formica locomotory behavior might play in their mimicryI am also characterizing and comparing the locomotion of S. formica, ants, and other jumping spiders.

Synemosyna spider morphology
Myrmecomorph morphospace
Mimic coloration in avian morphospace

Prior Research

As an undergraduate I studied the mating behavior of the long-jawed orb weaver, Tetragnatha elongata under the guidance of Dr. Anne Danielson-François. Adult T. elongata males are unable to build webs and often steal food from females, meaning that males present both a mating opportunity and a threat to resources for females. Likewise, males run the risk of being cannibalized by hungry females, raising questions about how female receptivity and intersexual aggression might change based on available food resources. Over three months I filmed T. elongata along the River Rouge in Michigan in order to examine the role of food availability and kleptoparasitism in the mating behavior of T. elongata.

Tetragnatha male at night
Tetragnatha female spider


With the help of the Morehouse team, I developed and coordinated an educational program for STEM Girls though the Cincinnati Museum Center. The curricula involved two sessions, one in which students learned about bioluminescence through games, making crafts, and discussion with microbiologist, Dr. Annette Rowe. In the other session, we partnered with the American Sign Museum, Dr. Margaret Hanson from the University of Cincinnati Physics Department, and Reneé Seward from DAAP. The students learned about the history of neon signs, typography, color vision, and elemental spectra though discussion, demonstration, and a spectral scavenger hunt.

Science Outreach - American Sign Museum
Science outreach audience

I also planned and coordinated a spider behavior master class for advanced naturalists in partnership with the Edge of Appalachia Preserve. Participants were taken on a night hike to observe spiders in the field, shown a live spider mating, interacted with collected live specimens and given lectures on spider vision, mating, sex and life stage identification, and live handling and observation under a microscope by members of our lab and myself.