Insectes Sociaux

, Volume 56, Issue 3, pp 223–231 | Cite as

Aliens among us: nestmate recognition in the social huntsman spider, Delena cancerides

  • E. C. YipEmail author
  • S. Clarke
  • L. S. Rayor
Research Article


Unlike all other social spiders, the social huntsman spider, Delena cancerides, has been reported to rapidly respond to non-nestmates with lethal aggression, similar to the behavior of some eusocial insects. We tested for the presence of nestmate recognition in D. cancerides under laboratory conditions by introducing 105 unrelated alien conspecifics into foreign colonies and comparing their behavior to 60 control spiders removed and returned to their natal colony. Spiders demonstrated nestmate recognition by investigating alien spiders far more than nestmates and by resting closer to nestmates than to aliens. Serious attacks or deaths occurred in 23% of all trials; however, aggression was not directed significantly more toward aliens than to nestmates. Most notably, aggression was largely mediated by the adult females (resident or alien), who were most likely to attack or kill other subadult or mature individuals. Young individuals (resident or alien) were largely immune from serious aggression. Spiders recently collected from the field tended to be more aggressive than spiders born and raised in the laboratory, possibly due to blurring of recognition cues related to laboratory husbandry. Our findings support the prediction that nestmate recognition should evolve when there is a benefit to discriminating against non-kin, as in this social spider system where foraging individuals may enter a foreign colony and the colony retreat is a limited resource.


Social spiders Nestmate recognition Aggression 



Team Delena members Ariel Zimmerman and Eric Denemark provided expert animal care, Rachel Walsh helped develop the Delena ethogram and collect 2002 data, and Max Bernstein assisted in 2005. Francoise Vermeylen of Cornell University’s Statistical Consulting Unit provided statistical guidance. Dr. Dave Rowell of the Australian National University, Canberra, has been incredibly generous in sharing a spectacular system and his lab. The manuscript has been strengthened by comments by Dr. Thomas Seeley and two anonymous reviewers. Dr. Jeff Scott and Cheryl Leichter graciously provided houseflies for spiderlings. This work was funded by the by Cornell University’s Sage Fellowship (to ECY), and AAAS/NSF Women’s International Scientific Collaboration and President’s Council on Cornell Women grants (to LSR).


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Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel/Switzerland 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Entomology, Comstock HallCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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