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Those Intriguing Spiders
Donald J. Frederick
National Geographic News
Most spiders are downright
Nearly all of these solitary
creatures end up fighting or can
nibalizing each other when they
Among the 34,000 spider
species, only about 18 cooperate
,in a big way. almost no inverte
brates except social spider and
ants do this to such a degree, says
Leticia Aviles, an evolutionary
biologist at the University of
“These very social spiders nest
and stay together all their lives,”
she says. “They share food and
cooperate in prey capture, web
building and maintaining the nest.
In some cases they even take care
of each others’ broods.”
As befits their laid-back
lifestyle, all of these eight-legged
groupies live in tropical and sub
Aviles discovered three
species of social spiders in the
rain forests of her native Ecuador.
So far, none has been officially
verified in the United States,
although researchers from the
University of Tennessee think
they have located a colony along
the Clinch River in the eastern
Kid-Friendly Microwave For After School Hunger Pangs
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Before your child assumes the
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• Read each recipe carefully.
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• The microwave oven cooks
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part of the state.
Susan E. Riechert, a zoologist
at the Tennessee University, theo
rizes that social spiders prefer
warmer climates because they
don’t hibernate for long periods
like their cousins in cooler places.
“They can just continue to keep
going and producing individuals,
so you have some continuity of
overlapping generations,” she
They do a lot of producing,
because most nests average 10
females to one male. Unless dis
rupted by outside conditions such
as severe storms or large animals
that destroy their homes, the spi
ders stay together indefinitely and
usually don’t mingle, even with
spiders of the same species in
When calamity strikes, the
animals migrate as a group to a
new location. Aviles watched 45
nestmates in Ecuador follow each
other single file through thick
undergrowth for two days. “Only
one spider out of the group got
lose,” says Aviles, whose
research has been supported by
the National Geographic Society.
“The rest remained together.”
Despite inbreeding, the social
spiders persist, perhaps because
they’ve been doing it for millions
MEXI OR ITALIAN©
I medium-sized Idaho
1 tablespoon butter
3 tablespoons mild salsa*
1/4 cup (1 ounce) shredded
Sliced pitted ripe olives
Tortilla chips, if desired
Pierce potato all over with
tines of a fork. Place potato on
paper towel in microwave.
Microwave on High (100%) for 2
minutes. Turn potato over.
Microwave for 2 to 3 minutes
more, or until potato is tender
when pierced with a fork. Care
fully remove from microwave.
Place on plate. Slit top of potato.
Top potato with butter, salsa and
cheese. Microwave on High
(100%) 20 seconds, or until
cheese is melted.
1 package (8 ounces) cream
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 cups toasted rice cereal
1 cup miniature
2/3 cup EACH: raisins, mini
semi-sweet chocolate pieces
Place unwrapped cream
cheese and butter in 4-quart
microwavable mixing bowl.
Microwave on High (100%),
uncovered, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes, or
until butter is melted and cream
cheese is soft, stir with a whisk
until well combined. Whisk in
honey and cinnamon. Stir in cere
al, marshmallows, raisins and
chocolate pieces. Form mixture
into 1 1/2-inch balls.
Australian social spiders prepare to make a meal of a grasshopper tangled In their web.
assault. They then hauled the hap
less victim away to share with
nest mates. “Most social species
just drag home their prey, and it’s
not very organized,” says Avile.
Not so with a small, yellow
Ecuadorian spider that captures
unwary victims in a sticky web
that coats both sides of leaves.
Aviles watched three females
join forces to carry a large ant
from the upper to the lower sur
face of the nest. After pieces of
the web were snipped to free the
catch, one ant pushed, another
pulled and the third lifted the prey
to keep it away from the sticky
Inbreeding probably accounts
for the predominance of females.
“It would be silly to produce
more males, because they’d be
competing with each other and
they’re genetically identical,”
says Riechert. “Besides, females
are the workers of the colony. It’s
really the females that are sort of
carrying the males along.”
So when dinner’s served, it’s
usually compliments of the
females, who closely coordinate
their hunting activities.
In Ecuador, Aviles observed
females, positioned along the
edge of a nest closest to a strug
gling insect, launch a joint
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“Once at the edge,” Aviles
observed, “the ant was success
fully moved to the other side by
having one spider hold it from
above as it from above as it
walked toward the edge while the
other two supported the item and
pulled it from below. It infers
some kind of communication.”
By coordinating their web
building talents, social spiders
can build large structures to snare
oversize prey suitable for a com
munal banquet. The menu might
include large katydids, beetles