A Web of Spiders

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Science  08 Dec 2006:
Vol. 314, Issue 5805, pp. 1516
DOI: 10.1126/science.314.5805.1516a

Arthropod sociality is largely confined to insects—chiefly ants, bees, wasps, and termites. Less well known and far less diverse are the social spiders—about 20 species, many of which are cobweb spiders—in which large numbers of individuals occupy a communal web and cooperate in the capture of prey. Like social arthropods, the colonies tend to have a highly female-biased sex ratio.

Avilés et al. describe the unusual biology of an Ecuadorian social spider. These spiders live in colonies of one to several thousand individuals, proliferating and dispersing with a “boom-and-bust” dynamics whereby large colonies fragment into many smaller colonies, perhaps stimulated by the preference of an associated predator to inhabit and prey on the larger colonies. Intriguingly, the females of this species come in two sizes, which is suggestive of alternative reproductive strategies or even a caste system—possibilities that remain to be explored but are highly unusual outside the social insects. — AMS

Biotropica 38, 743 (2006).

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