Predatory Behaviour is Plastic According to Prey Difficulty in Naïve Spiderlings


Predatory behaviour is plastic towards different prey. However, prey differ in their defenses and predators should adjust in order to successfully subdue it. The variation in predatory behaviour could be either innate or developed from experiences. A feasible way to tease these factors apart is by studying inexperienced individuals. Here, I tested if the behaviour of inexperienced predators is different towards two prey types and if it correlates with the behaviour of the prey. I fed naïve spiderlings of the sheet weaver cellar spider Physocyclus globosus (Pholcidae) with either fruit flies or ants as prey (potential extremes in difficulty). I found that, regardless of prey type, individuals that exhibited active defensive behaviour (longer time twisting, moving legs and body segments) elicited a more intense predatory behaviour by the spiderlings (longer time touching and wrapping the prey, and giving more bites). Ants were often more difficult prey than flies, even damaging the spiderling’s leg in five trials. A successful attack to difficult prey was associated with increased handling time of additional silk needed to immobilize it. The differences in the predatory behaviour showed by P. globosus spiderlings suggest plasticity since their first attack. This plasticity would be adaptive for naïve predators of any taxa that encounter a wide diversity of prey.

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I thank WG Eberhard, RL Rodríguez, and G Barrantes for their guidance in the design, analysis and writing of this project. D Briceño, A Aisenberg, HF Japyassú, C Viera, GS Requena and two anonymous reviewers provided useful comments to improve a preliminary draft of this manuscript. P Hanson kindly identified the ant species, F Hernández and C Céspedes gave me access to the fruit flies, JF Vargas made the prey illustrations, O Gaoue provided statistical advice, and MJ Raboin kindly reviewed the English.

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Correspondence to Ignacio Escalante.

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Online resource 1. Predatory behaviour of a newly hatched spiderling of Physocyclus globosus (Araneae: Pholcidae) during the first stages of the attack towards a Drosophila melanogaster wild type fruit fly or a Paratrechina longicornis worker ants. Cup diameter = 3 cm. (MP4 51,209 kb)

Online resource 1. Predatory behaviour of a newly hatched spiderling of Physocyclus globosus (Araneae: Pholcidae) during the first stages of the attack towards a Drosophila melanogaster wild type fruit fly or a Paratrechina longicornis worker ants. Cup diameter = 3 cm. (MP4 51,209 kb)


Appendix 1

Table 5 Summary values for predatory behaviour variables of newly hatched Physocyclus globosus (Araneae: Pholcidae) spiderling on two prey types (Paratrechina longicornis worker ants and Drosophila melanogaster wild fruit flies), and for two defensive behaviours of the prey

Appendix 2

Table 6 Simple linear correlations for the Physocyclus globosus (Pholcidae) spiderling predatory behaviours (columns) and the defensive behaviours (rows) of two prey type (Paratrechina longicornis worker ants and Drosophila melanogaster wild fruit flies) (descriptions on Tables 1 and 2)

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Escalante, I. Predatory Behaviour is Plastic According to Prey Difficulty in Naïve Spiderlings. J Insect Behav 28, 635–650 (2015).

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  • Araneae
  • Drosophila melanogaster
  • Paratrechina longicornis
  • prey–wrapping
  • Physocyclus globosus
  • Pholcidae