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Abstract

Evolution of orb-weaving spiders that comprise the Orbiculariae clade involved a transition in the composition of prey capture thread that has been challenging to explain. The primitive cribellar threads spun by members of the Deinopoidea subclade resemble the capture threads of their non-orb-web-weaving ancestors and are formed of thousands of fine, dry, protein cribellar fibrils. In contrast, the derived viscous capture threads spun by members of the Araneoidea subclade have regularly spaced, aqueous adhesive droplets. When second instar deinopoid spiderlings emerge from egg sacs they are unable to spin cribellar threads, and, therefore, do not construct orb-webs; whereas second instar araneoids spin capture threads and construct orb-webs. If, as we hypothesize, viscous material evolved to enable second instar spiderlings to construct orb-webs, early araneoids may have spun composite cribellar–viscous capture threads. To examine the functional feasibility of such intermediate capture threads, we compared the adhesion of cribellar threads, viscous threads, and combined cribellar–viscous threads. The stickiness of these combined threads was greater than that of native cribellar or viscous threads alone. The viscous material of Araneus marmoreus threads exhibited a substantial increase in stickiness when combined with cribellar fibrils and that of Argiope aurantia threads a small increase in stickiness when combined with cribellar fibrils. Thus, if early araneoids retained their ability to spin cribellar threads after having evolved glands that produced viscous material, their composite threads could have formed a functional adhesive system that achieved its stickiness at no loss of material economy. J. Exp. Zool. 315:376–384, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.