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The silk tuft web decorations of the orb-weaver Gasteracantha cancriformis : testing the prey attraction and the web advertisement hypotheses

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Several orb-web spiders build conspicuous decorations in their webs. The prey attraction hypothesis proposes that decorations increase spider foraging success by attracting prey, and that attraction is linked to UV reflectance. Alternatively, the web advertisement hypothesis proposes that decorations are a signal that advertises the presence of the web to large animals. We tested both hypotheses for the web silk tufts of Gasteracantha cancriformis. Even though tufts are UV reflective, we did not find support for the prey attraction hypothesis. In the field, when webs with tufts painted black and control webs were compared, there were no differences in the number of prey captured, number of damaged areas in webs and type of prey captured. In the laboratory, Drosophila melanogaster did not demonstrate preference for tufted silk lines versus non-tufted silk lines. Our data also did not give support for the web advertisement hypothesis. The proportion of web destruction was similar between web with tufts painted black and control webs during four days of experimentation. Therefore, two of the most favoured hypotheses that attempt to explain decorations do not apply for web silk tufts in our study system. Instead we propose that silk tufts might be an aposematic signal.

Affiliations: 1: Departamento de Zoologia, Universidade de Brasília, 70910-900 Brasília, DF, Brazil


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