What are 3-D spider webs for?

January 02, 2003

The classic radial or "orb" spider web captures flying insects efficiently with a small amount of silk but such flat webs leave spiders exposed to their own predators. The derived "araneoid sheet web weavers" transformed the flat orb web into, usually, three-dimensional cobwebs and sheet webs.

These webs surround spiders with tangles of silk that can provide both physical protection and early warning of predators. In an article to appear in the January 2003 issue of Ecology Letters, researchers led by a team at Cornell University report that these three-dimensional webs are associated with a dramatic decrease in predation by mud-dauber wasps, major worldwide predators of spiders.

This escape from predation is accompanied by a dramatic increase in both spider species diversity and abundance. Thus, spider web evolution seems driven not only by capture efficiency, but also by protection of the spiders themselves.
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Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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