Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version



Animal Behaviour 169 (November 2020), pp. 103–117.

doi: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2020.09.003


Copyright © 2020 Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. Published by Elsevier Ltd. Used by permission.


The observable diversity of antipredator defenses across organisms demonstrates predation’s impact on trait evolution. The functions of many traits that are presumed to have an antipredator function have never been directly tested. The spiny orb-weaving spider, Micrathena gracilis, for example, stridulates when grasped. While stridulation was first hypothesized to be an antipredator defense nearly 50 years ago, no data exist to support this hypothesis. To explore the form and function of M. gracilis stridulation, we first quantified the behavioral and acoustical properties of sound production. Next, using laboratory assays, we directly tested the effect of stridulation on survival with an avian predator—blue jays, Cyanocitta cristata. Finally, we conducted a large mark-recapture field study in which we compared the natural survival of experimentally manipulated adult female M. gracilis that could not stridulate (silenced) versus could stridulate (control). Stridulatory pulses produced broadband frequency spectra, consistent with acoustic antipredator defenses in other taxa. We also observed stridulation by male M. gracilis for the first time. In staged laboratory interactions with captive blue jays, we found no differences in survival between silenced and control M. gracilis. Similarly, in our mark-recapture field study, we found no differences in survival estimates between silenced and control groups, nor an effect of stridulation rate. While M. gracilis stridulation closely resembles antipredator stridulation in other arthropods, our behavioral data do not yet provide solid support for an antipredator function in M. gracilis.