Task specialization in two social spiders, Stegodyphus sarasinorum (Eresidae) and Anelosimus eximius (Theridiidae)


Correspondence: Virginia Settepani, Department of Bioscience, Ecology and Genetics, Aarhus University, Ny Munkegade 116, building 1535, office 216, 8000, Aarhus, Denmark.

Tel.: +45 87156597; fax: +45 87154326;

e-mail: virginia.settepani@biology.au.dk


Understanding the social organization of group-living organisms is crucial for the comprehension of the underlying selective mechanisms involved in the evolution of cooperation. Division of labour and caste formation is restricted to eusocial organisms, but behavioural asymmetries and reproductive skew is common in other group-living animals. Permanently, social spiders form highly related groups with reproductive skew and communal brood care. We investigated task differentiation in nonreproductive tasks in two permanently and independently derived social spider species asking the following questions: Do individual spiders vary consistently in their propensity to engage in prey attack? Are individual spiders' propensities to engage in web maintenance behaviour influenced by their previous engagement in prey attack? Interestingly, we found that both species showed some degree of task specialization, but in distinctly different ways: Stegodyphus sarasinorum showed behavioural asymmetries at the individual level, that is, individual spiders that had attacked prey once were more likely to attack prey again, independent of their body size or hunger level. In contrast, Anelosimus eximius showed no individual specialization, but showed differentiation according to instar, where adult and subadult females were more likely to engage in prey attack than were juveniles. We found no evidence for division of labour between prey attack and web maintenance. Different solutions to achieve task differentiation in prey attack for the two species studied here suggest an adaptive value of task specialization in foraging for social spiders.