Cannibalism and kin recognition in Delena cancerides (Araneae: Sparassidae), a social huntsman spider


A. S. Beavis, School of Botany & Zoology, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia.


Social behaviour in spiders is rare: of the 39 000 species of spiders known, only 23 are considered to be cooperatively social. Delena cancerides is a social species of the huntsman spider that is endemic to Australia. This species is virtually unique among social spiders, having evolved social behaviour in the absence of a snare web. It is thought that this form of social behaviour in D. cancerides has evolved via the sub-social route, that is, the extension of an ancestrally occurring period of maternal care and the delayed dispersal of juveniles. Most social spiders show no aggression towards non-kin conspecifics, prompting suggestions that spiders cannot recognize kin; however, D. cancerides individuals are highly aggressive towards conspecifics introduced from outside their own colony. In order to determine whether selective aggression in D. cancerides has its basis in kin recognition, tolerance behaviour was assessed in the context of kinship and size. We observed that, in general, juveniles preferred to starve than engage in cannibalism of any conspecifics, related or not. However, where cannibalism did occur, non-kin were preferentially eaten, indicating that this species is clearly capable of kin recognition. Size thresholds were also established, below which juveniles are tolerated by adults and above which aggressive interactions leading to death occur. We conclude that kin recognition and juvenile dispersal explain the uncharacteristically high levels of genetic polymorphism in this species.