Orb-Weaver Spiders’ Yellow & Black Pattern Helps Them Lure Prey

(CN) – Using a bright yellow color similarly found in several flower heads, scientists revealed in a new study Monday that orb weaving spiders can use the colored patterns across their body to lure potential prey into their webs.

The study, published in the journal Functional Ecology, reveals that a team of international researchers have recently discovered that orb weaving spiders, which make up more than quarter of all known spider species, use their natural yellow and black mosaic-like designs to draw in unsuspecting quarries.

This is a golden orb-weaver, Nephila pilipes. (Photo courtesy of Bing Heng Lee)

To make these observations, researchers utilized a simple but surprisingly effective resource: cardboard cutouts.

Researchers constructed a series of cardboard spiders modeled after the Nephila pilipes, a type of orb-weaver, and placed the models in real, in-field spider webs.

Using around 1,178 hours of observational data, researchers found that other insects and natural orb weaver prey were naturally drawn to the cardboard models with distinct yellow and black color patterns far more than they were drawn to other color combinations.

Lead author Po Peng, from the School of BioSciences and University of Melbourne, says these results clearly suggest that using color and patterns is a crucial hunting and luring tool for orb weaving spiders.

“Our discoveries indicate that the effectiveness of color-luring to attract prey might be a major driver for the yellow mosaic pattern being present in distantly related orb-weaver spiders,” Peng said in a statement.

The study found that the light conditions specific spider types operate in played a major role in how they used their color pattern. While an orb weaver that primarily lives in darkness can still use a yellow pattern to lure in prey in poorly lit environments, researchers found that the dark-dweller spider types did not typically evolve with distinctive yellow patterns.

Researchers found that spiders living and constructing webs in well-lit environments, meanwhile, were much more likely to evolve with a yellow pattern and can use the increased visibility to their advantage.

There were also some notable differences between spiders that operate during the day and those operate during the night. While day-active spiders use both yellow and black color patterns to their luring advantage, the nocturnal spiders are only able to rely on a solid yellow pattern.

There are still unanswered questions on why yellow spider designs are more attracting to other insects, though researchers suggest that this is likely due the natural draw many insects feel towards pollen.

Given that many pollinating insects active during the day find themselves biologically drawn towards yellow pollen and flower heads for pollination purposes, researchers believe that a spider’s body and color designs can mimic those materials and use an insect’s natural love for the color yellow against them.

Researchers suggest that while this study helped to explain how orb weaving spiders use their color patterns to interact with prey, it is not yet clear how they use their color to avoid natural spider predators, such as birds and lizards.

Peng said it does appear that a spider’s ability to lure in prey does not come at the expense of attracting predators, though this relationship may not be fully explored yet.

“Previous studies suggest that the area of bright body parts is constrained by diurnally active, visually hunting predators. But our results indicated that the yellow mosaic pattern on nocturnal spiders does not represent a trade-off between prey attraction and predator avoidance,” Peng said.

Researchers hope that future research efforts will explore just how a spider’s color influences their relationship with dangerous predators, as well as other relationships that may exist between a spider’s natural design and their environment.

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