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Relating the Cost of Spinning Silk to the Tendency to Share It for Three Embiids with Different Lifestyles (Order Embiidina: Clothodidae, Notoligotomidae, and Australembiidae)

J. S. Edgerly, S. M. Shenoy, V. G. Werner
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1603/0046-225X-35.2.448 448-457 First published online: 1 April 2006


Although adult female embiids (Order Embiidina) superficially lack morphological diversity, their variety of habitats may impose distinct selective pressures on behavior, such as their use of silk and their tendency to aggregate. For example, where silk serves as a primary defense from environmental threats, coloniality might be adaptive. The cost of production or spinning might also prompt them to share silk. These ideas were tested in laboratory trials involving three species of embiids with different lifestyles: an arboreal species (Antipaluria urichi (Saussure) from a neotropical rain forest, a species (Notoligotoma hardyi (Frederichs) that dwells on surfaces of granite outcrops in Australia, and another Australian species (Australembia incompta Ross) that stitches leaf litter together. The cost of spinning silk was analyzed by recording CO2 output in the short term during spinning and by measuring performance in long-term trials where embiids were forced to repeatedly replace their silk. Their subsequent development or reproductive output was scored. Overall, the cost of spinning was relatively low. However, the tendencies to spin and to aggregate varied in a manner related to how silk is used in the field. As such, the more exposed the embiid is to the elements, as for the two species that spin on surfaces, the more silk they spun and the more likely they settled near a neighbor. In contrast, the embiid that used dead leaves (not silk) as walls for their abodes produced scant silk and showed little tendency to aggregate.

  • Embioptera
  • webspinner
  • silk
  • social evolution
  • metabolic cost
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