Olfactory information saves venom during prey-capture of the hunting spider Cupiennius salei (Araneae: Ctenidae)


*Author to whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: wolfgang.nentwig@zos.unibe.ch


  • 1The Neotropical spider Cupiennius salei Keyserling (Ctenidae) selects prey in a manner consistent with the amount of venom available in its venom glands. It distinguishes the venom sensitivity of different prey species, and uses its venom economically (according to the venom-optimization hypothesis).
  • 2A prey-choice experiment was performed to test whether spiders use olfactory cues to detect prey and select prey items that are appropriate for their amount of available venom.
  • 3The spider could choose between two similar prey dummies made of agar. We added the odour of two prey species, either by adding minced insects to an agar block or by offering it on filter paper which had previously been exposed to the living prey. Cupiennius salei spiders had either full or emptied venom glands.
  • 4Two insects of distinctive venom sensitivity, but high acceptance, were tested: a sensitive cricket and a less sensitive cockroach.
  • 5Using video surveillance, we found an attraction effect of prey odour in the prey-capture behaviour of C. salei. Spiders preferred agar pieces with minced insects or insect odour on filter paper over non-smelling items. Reaction frequency and attack rates were equal for spiders with full venom glands if they had to choose between cricket and cockroach odour. When the venom glands were empty, however, C. salei significantly preferred the venom-sensitive cricket over the venom-insensitive cockroach.
  • 6We showed for the first time that C. salei uses its olfactory sense to detect prey items, and distinguishes between prey species with low and high sensitivity to spider venom. This study supports the venom-optimization hypothesis.