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Keywords:

  • Araneidae;
  • Argiope keyserlingi;
  • decoration;
  • foraging behaviour;
  • predation;
  • stabilimentum;
  • visual signal

Predators may utilize signals to exploit the sensory biases of their prey or their predators. The inclusion of conspicuous silk structures called decorations or stabilimenta in the webs of some orb-web spiders (Araneae: Araneidae, Tetragnathidae, Uloboridae) appears to be an example of a sensory exploitation system. The function of these structures is controversial but they may signal to attract prey and/or deter predators. Here, we test these predictions, using a combination of field manipulations and laboratory experiments. In the field, decorations influenced the foraging success of adult female St. Andrew’s Cross spiders, Argiope keyserlingi: inclusion of decorations increased prey capture rates as the available prey also increased. In contrast, when decorations were removed, prey capture rates were low and unrelated to the amount of available prey. Laboratory choice experiments showed that significantly more flies (Chrysomya varipes; Diptera: Calliphoridae) were attracted to decorated webs. However, decorations also attracted predators (adult and juvenile praying mantids, Archimantis latistylus; Mantodea: Mantidae) to the web. St. Andrew’s Cross spiders apparently resolve the conflicting nature of a prey- and predator-attracting signal by varying their decorating behaviour according to the risk of predation: spiders spun fewer decorations if their webs were located in dense vegetation where predators had greater access, than if the webs were located in sparse vegetation.