Animal Cognition

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 185–195 | Cite as

The role of learning in risk-avoidance strategies during spider–ant interactions

  • Yann HénautEmail author
  • Salima Machkour-M’Rabet
  • Jean-Paul Lachaud
Original Paper


Cognitive abilities used by arthropods, particularly predators, when interacting in a natural context have been poorly studied. Two neotropical sympatric predators, the golden silk spider Nephila clavipes and the ectatommine ant Ectatomma tuberculatum, were observed in field conditions where their interactions occurred regularly due to the exploitation of the same patches of vegetation. Repeated presentations of E. tuberculatum workers ensnared in their web triggered a progressive decrease in the capture response of N. clavipes. All the spiders that stopped trying to catch the ant on the second and/or third trial were individuals that had been bitten during a previous trial. Behavioural tests in natural field conditions showed that after a single confrontation with ant biting, spiders were able to discriminate this kind of prey more quickly from a defenceless prey (fruit flies) and to selectively and completely suppress their catching response. This one-trial aversive learning was still effective after 24 h. Likewise, E. tuberculatum workers entangled once on a N. clavipes web and having succeeded in escaping, learned to escape more quickly, breaking through the web by preferentially cutting spiral threads (sticky traps) rather than radial threads (stronger structural unsticky components) or pursuing the cutting of radials but doing it more quickly. Both strategies, based on a one-trial learning capability, obviously minimize the number of physical encounters between the two powerful opponents and may enhance their fitness by diminishing the risk of potential injuries resulting from predatory interactions.


Predation risk Predatory interaction Aversive learning One-trial learning Evasive strategy Prey avoidance 



The authors are grateful for access to the field site granted by the INIFAP Rosario Izapa (Chiapas, Mexico). They are also grateful to Peter Winterton for assistance with the English manuscript, to Javier Valle Mora and Gabriela Pérez-Lachaud for statistical advice, and to Ken Cheng and two anonymous reviewers for their critical comments and useful suggestions on a previous version of this manuscript. The experiments described in this paper comply with the current laws of Mexico.

Supplementary material

Video 1. Spider captures a fly during the first trial (slow motion; speed divided by 4) (MPG 2250 kb)

Video 2. Spider cuts its web to evacuate the ant after having been bitten during a previous trial (MPG 1992 kb)

Video 3. Spider’s reaction immediately after being bitten by an ant (MPG 2318 kb)

Video 4. Spider catching an ant from behind to avoid the possibility of injury (MPG 1282 kb)

Video 5. Ant in the web wriggling and cutting threads (MPG 5830 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yann Hénaut
    • 1
    Email author
  • Salima Machkour-M’Rabet
    • 1
  • Jean-Paul Lachaud
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.El Colegio de la Frontera SurChetumalMexico
  2. 2.Centre de Recherches sur la Cognition Animale, CNRS-UMR 5169Université de Toulouse UPSToulouse Cedex 09France

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