, Volume 31, Issue 5, pp 309-318

Stabilimenta characteristics of the spider Argiope argentata on small islands: support of the predator-defense hypothesis

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Summary

A variety of orb-weaving spider species construct stabilimenta, patterned areas of dense silk, typically near the hub of the orb. The adaptive significance of this construction, along with associated behaviors such as shuttling and vibrating, is much debated. Arigiope argentata on small islands of the Bahamas frequently possess stabilimenta; we studied 397 individuals of this species to investigate possible functions of their stabilimenta, paying particular attention to predator-defense hypotheses. Cruciform stabilimenta were commoner in all size classes of spiders than discoid stabilimenta or no stabilimentum at all; discoid stabilimenta occurred mostly among intermediate size classes. Within the cruciform type, two-segmented stabilimenta were especially common among the very smallest spiders. Size of cruciform stabilimenta showed a curvilinear relation to spider body length; the fitted curve for “total segment length” had a maximum at an intermediate spider length. We argue that this relationship (among other phenomena) supports an apparently-larger-size hypothesis, whereby intermediate-sized spiders in particular appear much larger than they actually are. This could discourage predators, including those that are gape-limited such as lizards. We argue that stabilimenta in the smallest spiders, in which typically two segments are opposed, so that they more or less “line up”, serve as camouflage. When disturbed experimentally, spiders with discoid stabilimenta shuttle to the opposite side of the centrally located stabilimentum. This seems an obvious defensive behavior and occurs less frequently among spiders with cruciform stabilimenta. Large spiders vibrate more frequently than small ones, but no relation exists between vibration frequency and stabilimentum type. We argue (see also Tolbert 1975) that vibrating behavior, in which the spider can become a blur, renders its location more difficult to discern and the spider more difficult to grasp, rather than increasing apparent size.

Correspondence to: T.W. Schoener