A possible role of decorations in spiderwebs as protection devices that distract predators
Several functions have been proposed for silk decorations (i.e., stabilimenta) in spiderwebs. One hypothesis is that web decorations protect spiders from predators, either by concealing the spiders, physically shielding them, or by deflecting predatory attacks. This study uses data gathered in opportunistic manner when studying the behavior of Stenolemus giraffa, an assassin bug that preys almost exclusively on web-building spiders. Stenolemus giraffa approach orb spiders on foot, and usually capture the spiders at the hub region of the web. When pursuing spiders, S. giraffa routinely tap the web with their antennae, and also tap the spiders prior to attacking them. The observations available from this study suggest that S. giraffa got “distracted” momentarily by the decorations in the webs of Purumitra sp. (Uloboridae) and Argiope katherina (Araneidae). In some instances, the assassin bugs tapped these structures for several seconds or minutes instead of tapping the adjacent spiders. In interactions with A. katherina, S. giraffa was more successful at capturing the spiders when the webs lacked decorations; however, sample sizes are small (this could not be tested for Purumitra sp. because only one web lacked decorations). Finally, some of the spiders detected S. giraffa tapping the decorations or that had begun tapping the spiders and that had interrupted this behavior to tap the decorations. The data available suggest that, for S. giraffa, the decorations in these webs interfered with the process of locating the spiders. If further experiments corroborate this idea, this information would be in accord with Hingston’s (1927) hypothesis that web decorations can confuse spider predators.