Silk decorations: controversy and consensus


Matthew J. Bruce, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, NSW 2109, Australia.


Although the occurrence of silk decorations has been noted in scientific literature for over 100 years, there is still little consensus as to their function. This is despite the proliferation of studies examining the five major hypotheses: (1) protection against predators, (2) increasing foraging success, (3) prevention of damage to the web, (4) providing shade and (5) mechanical support for the web. The first three of these hypotheses have received the most attention, and thus generated the most evidence (for and against) suggesting that web decorations are a type of visual signal. However, the effect of this signal on prey and predator receivers is unclear as the evidence is contradictory. Thus, the function of silk decorations may be context specific, depending on factors such as predators, prey, background colour and ambient light. A better understanding of how predators and prey see and process visual information from silk decorations, coupled with experiments examining the mechanisms behind the various hypotheses, are crucial in illuminating their function and resolving the controversy.