Chemical Mediation of Prey Recognition by Spider-Hunting Wasps


Divya B. Uma, Department of Biology, Georgetown University, 406 Reiss Building, 37th and O Streets NW, Washington, DC 20057, USA. E-mail:


Predator–prey interactions are important in maintaining the structure and dynamics of ecological communities. Both predators and prey use cues from a range of sensory modalities to detect and assess one another; identification of these cues is necessary to understand how selection operates to shape predator–prey interactions. Mud-dauber wasps (Sphecidae) provision their larval nests with paralyzed spiders, and different genera of wasps specialize on particular spider taxa. Sceliphron caementarium (Drury 1773) wasps preferentially capture spiders that build two-dimensional (2D) webs, rather than those that construct three-dimensional (3D) webs, but the basis of this preference is not clear. Wasps may choose spiders based on an assessment of their web architecture, as 3D webs may provide better defenses against wasp predation than do 2D webs. However, because many hymenopterans use chemical cues to locate and recognize prey, it is also possible that mud-dauber wasps rely on chemical cues associated with the spider and/or the web to assess prey suitability. When we offered foraging S. caementarium wasps 2D and 3D spiders both on and off their webs, we found that in both cases the wasps took 2D spiders and avoided 3D spiders, demonstrating that the web itself is not the impediment. Results of a series of behavioral choice assays involving filter paper discs containing spider cues and chemically manipulated spiders or spider dummies corroborated the importance of spider chemical cues in mediation of prey recognition by mud-dauber wasps. We also discuss the relative importance of visual and chemical cues for prey recognition by wasps, examine the anti-predator behaviors of 2D and 3D spiders, and consider the role of wasp predation in spider diversification.