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Ontogenetic Changes in Web Design in Two Orb-Web Spiders


Thomas Hesselberg, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, OX1 3PS Oxford, United Kingdom.


The first orb web built by newly hatched spiders resembles the adult web in its overall form and structure. However, many details show ontogenetic changes. One possible explanation for these changes is that the tiny early-instar spiders with their minute brains will make more mistakes and build less ‘perfect’ orb webs than older and larger juveniles and adults. To test this hypothesis, known as the size limitation hypothesis, I analysed orb webs from three developmental stages, spiderlings, juveniles and adult females, in two neotropical orb-web spiders, the araneid Eustala illicita and the nephilid Nephila clavipes. Neither species showed clear signs of being behaviourally limited or more prone to committing errors as spiderlings than were older juveniles or adults. These findings therefore do not support the size limitation hypothesis in either species. Finally, I looked for evidence of the ‘biogenetic law’, which predicts that juveniles should build less derived orb webs than the adults. Evidence for this was found in E. illicita, but not in N. clavipes.