The great silk alternative: multiple co-evolution of web loss and sticky hairs in spiders

PLoS One. 2013 May 1;8(5):e62682. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0062682. Print 2013.

Abstract

Spiders are the most important terrestrial predators among arthropods. Their ecological success is reflected by a high biodiversity and the conquest of nearly every terrestrial habitat. Spiders are closely associated with silk, a material, often seen to be responsible for their great ecological success and gaining high attention in life sciences. However, it is often overlooked that more than half of all Recent spider species have abandoned web building or never developed such an adaptation. These species must have found other, more economic solutions for prey capture and retention, compensating the higher energy costs of increased locomotion activity. Here we show that hairy adhesive pads (scopulae) are closely associated with the convergent evolution of a vagrant life style, resulting in highly diversified lineages of at least, equal importance as the derived web building taxa. Previous studies often highlighted the idea that scopulae have the primary function of assisting locomotion, neglecting the fact that only the distal most pads (claw tufts) are suitable for those purposes. The former observations, that scopulae are used in prey capture, are largely overlooked. Our results suggest the scopulae evolved as a substitute for silk in controlling prey and that the claw tufts are, in most cases, a secondary development. Evolutionary trends towards specialized claw tufts and their composition from a low number of enlarged setae to a dense array of slender ones, as well as the secondary loss of those pads are discussed further. Hypotheses about the origin of the adhesive setae and their diversification throughout evolution are provided.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Extremities / anatomy & histology
  • Genetic Speciation
  • Hair / ultrastructure
  • Phylogeny
  • Predatory Behavior
  • Silk
  • Spiders / anatomy & histology*
  • Spiders / genetics

Substances

  • Silk

Grant support

This work was supported by the German Science Foundation (DFG) Initiative “Bionik” (DFG grant GO995/7-1 to SNG). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.