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Nephila clavipes spiders (Araneae: Nephilidae) keep track of captured prey counts: testing for a sense of numerosity in an orb-weaver

Abstract

Nephila clavipes golden orb-web spiders accumulate prey larders on their webs and search for them if they are removed from their web. Spiders that lose larger larders (i.e., spiders that lose larders consisting of more prey items) search for longer intervals, indicating that the spiders form memories of the size of the prey larders they have accumulated, and use those memories to regulate recovery efforts when the larders are pilfered. Here, we ask whether the spiders represent prey counts (i.e., numerosity) or a continuous integration of prey quantity (mass) in their memories. We manipulated larder sizes in treatments that varied in either prey size or prey numbers but were equivalent in total prey quantity (mass). We then removed the larders to elicit searching and used the spiders’ searching behavior as an assay of their representations in memory. Searching increased with prey quantity (larder size) and did so more steeply with higher prey counts than with single prey of larger sizes. Thus, Nephila spiders seem to track prey quantity in two ways, but to attend more to prey numerosity. We discuss alternatives for continuous accumulator mechanisms that remain to be tested against the numerosity hypothesis, and the evolutionary and adaptive significance of evidence suggestive of numerosity in a sit-and-wait invertebrate predator.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Marielos Aguilar and Adrián Briceño for excellent hospitality and help with experiments. This work benefitted from stimulating discussions with Giby Barrantes, Bill Eberhard, Ignacio Escalante, and the 170 Entomology Seminar at the University of Costa Rica. Ken Cheng, Linda Whittingham, and two anonymous reviewers provided constructive comments on the manuscript. This research was funded in part by a UWM Graduate School Committee Award to RLR.

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Correspondence to Rafael L. Rodríguez.

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Nephila clavipes female accumulating a prey larder at the hub of her web. This spider has already accumulated a 3-prey larder and is in the process of wrapping and securing a fourth prey item to the hub of her web before settling down to feed. (MPG 2002 kb)

Nephila clavipes female searching for lost prey. This spider is in the middle of searching for prey that was experimentally removed from the hub of her web. (MPG 2171 kb)

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Rodríguez, R.L., Briceño, R.D., Briceño-Aguilar, E. et al. Nephila clavipes spiders (Araneae: Nephilidae) keep track of captured prey counts: testing for a sense of numerosity in an orb-weaver. Anim Cogn 18, 307–314 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-014-0801-9

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-014-0801-9

Keywords

  • Cognitive ecology
  • Counting
  • Food hoarding
  • Nephila
  • Web spider