The biology of Pholcus phalangioides (Araneae, Pholcidae): predatory versatility, araneophagy and aggressive mimicry

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Abstract

Predatory versatility occurs in Pholcus phalangioides (Fuesslin). In addition to building prey-catching space webs, P. phalangioides invades webs of other spiders and feeds on the occupants. It acts as an aggressive mimic by performing specialized vibratory behaviours to which the prey-spider responds as it normally would to its own prey. Prey (spiders and insects) is attacked by wrapping. Prey that trips over lines at the edge of a web of P. phalangioides, but fails to enter the web, is successfully attacked: P. phalangioides leans out of its web to throw silk over the prey, keeping as few as two legs on the silk. However, P. phalangioides does not attack prey that is completely away from webs. Occasionally, P. phalangioides feeds on eggs of other spiders and on ensnared insects it encounters in alien webs. Experimental evidence indicates that vision is of little or no importance in the predatory behaviour of P. phalangioides. Although P. phalangioides invades diverse types of webs, in addition to using its own web, its efficiency as a predator varies with web-type. It is most efficient as a predator of spiders and, especially, insects on its own web, and least efficient as a predator of amaurobiids on their cribellate sheet webs. Sensory, locomotory and other factors which influence differential predatory efficiency are discussed. The behaviour of P. phalangioides is compared to that of Portia, an araneophagic web-invading salticid, and the results of this study are discussed in relation to hypotheses concerning salticid evolution.

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