Water as an Essential Resource: Orb Web Spiders Cannot Balance Their Water Budget by Prey Alone


André Walter, Department of Zoology, University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia.
E-mail: awalter@unimelb.edu.au


Water is essential for all living organisms because it acts as a major solvent and reaction medium. Terrestrial animals may lose water through evaporation and excretion and consequently have evolved strategies to balance their water budget by either minimising losses or by gaining water. The major pathway to gain water is via food intake, although many animals additionally drink free water. Spiders acquire substantial amounts of water by ingesting enzymatically liquefied prey. However, this may not account for the water needs of some species. We tested whether drinking is essential for orb web spiders of the genus Argiope by experimentally manipulating the diet (flies or crickets) and water supply (no water or a daily shower) to females and then measuring their subsequent drinking behaviour. Individuals of Argiope trifasciata, which are typically found in dry habitats, increased their body mass when fed crickets but not when fed flies. However, spiders deprived of water subsequently ingested significantly more water than spiders that received water every day, regardless of their feeding regime. This pattern was replicated in Argiope aetherea, which is found in the tropics and perhaps less likely to be water deprived in natural populations. Our results reveal that drinking allows these spiders to realise their water balance independent from the nutritional status. We suggest that the spiders may need to drink fresh water to process ingested nutrients.