Biology Faculty Research


Mesh Width Influences Prey Retention in Spider Orb Webs

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Winter 2006


Orb-weaving spiders depend upon the sticky capture spirals of webs to retain insects long enough to be captured. However, insects often escape from orb webs before the spiders can attack them. Therefore, the architectures of orb webs likely reflect strong selective pressure to increase retention times of insects. We experimentally increased the mesh width of one side of an orb web while maintaining the original mesh width on the other side as a control, and then tested the effect of this manipulation on the retention times of four different taxa of insects. We found evidence that increased mesh width of Argiope aurantia orb webs resulted in a general reduction in the retention times of insects. However, retention times for different taxa of insects were not predicted by any one specific morphological or flight characteristic. The influence of mesh width on the retention times of insects is very complex, but our results suggest that mesh width can act to selectively favor the capture of certain taxa of insect prey over others. This effect may help to explain both species level differences in web-building behaviors and variation in the architectures of webs spun by individual spiders on different days.

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