Timid spider uses odor and visual cues to actively select protected nesting sites near ants
Associations in which a more vulnerable species gains protection by seeking out the company of a pugnacious “protector” species capable of deterring predators are documented among mixed-species groups from various taxa, but experimental studies are rare. We consider an unusual arthropod-based example in which the associate species, Phintella piantensis, is a jumping spider (Salticidae) that associates with the territorial weaver ant Oecophylla smaragdina, which in turn is a potential predator of Phintella. However, the predator we consider in this mixed-species association is Scytodes sp., a spitting spider (Scytodae) that often targets salticids as prey. Scytodes adopts a strategy of building its web over salticid nests and then preying on resident salticids when they leave or return to their nests. Our experiments show that, on the basis of olfactory cues, Scytodes is deterred from the vicinity of O. smaragdina. Phintella builds dense ant-proof nests to minimize the risk of being killed by Oecophylla, and we show that olfactory as well as visual cues of ants elicit nest building by Phintella. We propose that Phintella actively chooses to situate nests in the vicinity of weaver ants as defense against a specific ant-averse predator that singles out salticids as preferred prey.