Spiders get better web sites by rising early

ITHACA, N.Y. -- The early spider catches the web site.

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati and Cornell University have discovered how large female spiders in colonies are able to claim enough territory to rebuild their daily webs in the face of competition from other large spiders and smaller ones. The researchers assumed they would observe belligerent behavior every day as the spiders fought for space. Not so.

Instead they found that large spiders in colonies use the time-honored capitalist technique of getting to market first.

"I had anticipated that the spiders would wake up every morning and fight with each other to get to build in the safer core of the colony. Actually, nothing like that happens," says Linda S. Rayor, Cornell instructor in entomology. "Instead the larger spiders compete for open spaces within the colony by building their webs earlier in the morning than other spiders. So the spiders pre-empt the space before anyone else can get there."

The study, "Age-related sequential web building in the colonial spider Metepeira incrassata (Araneidae): an adaptive spacing strategy," by Rayor and George W. Uetz, a University of Cincinnati professor of biology, appears in the May 2000 issue of the scientific journal Animal Behaviour. Rayor worked on this study while she was a postdoctoral researcher in Uetz's laboratory. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Rayor explains this research has general applicability to animal behavior. "We wondered how they wrestle for advantageous sites without actually beating the tar out of each other," she says. "It is also just really interesting natural history."

The scientists wanted to learn how social animals space themselves in groups by examining the behavior of hundreds of colonial spiders in Mexico. "In this case I was studying a spider that lives in groups of hundreds to thousands of individuals. But they need to have private space where each spi

Contact: Blaine P. Friedlander Jr.
Cornell University News Service

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