Temperature Drives Divergent Personalities Among Tangle Web Spiders

Tangle web spiders are either aggressive or docile, and when isolated from each other, are more susceptible to dying at extreme temperatures. Pictured, a tangle web spider checks out a recently mummified meal. Photo by Alex Wild/UNC

CHAPEL HILL, N.C., July 21 (UPI) — For colonies of tangle web spiders, having different personality traits ensures survival in the face of fluctuating temperatures.

Tangle web spiders exhibit one of two personalities: docile or aggressive. Many animal species have different personalities, but it’s not always clear why. ForAnelosimus studiosus, a colony’s split disposition is explained by temperature.

Scientists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found aggressive tangle web spiders either died or failed to reproduce when isolated and exposed to high temperatures. Docile spiders subjected to cold temperatures suffered a similar fate.

But when allowed to live in a diverse community, a mix of docile and aggressive spiders, the spiders thrived at a full range of temperatures, from 75 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Some aspect about living in a diverse society shields these aggressive spiders from selective pressures that would otherwise kill them,” researcher Spencer Ingley, a postdoctoral fellow at the UNC College of Arts and Sciences, said in a news release. “Without these diverse personalities, these spider societies would be more susceptible to extreme fluctuations in temperature — and it is interesting to think if our own society could benefit from diversity in a similar way.”

The new research is part of a broader effort by biologists to better understand how animal behavior and group dynamics change with temperature and climatic shifts.

“We live in a time of global change,” said Ingley. “Scientists are seeing that these changes can have a huge impact on individual organisms and groups of organisms. But people have rarely looked at personalities and how the personalities of groups can alter their response to these changes, particularly in different temperature environments.”

The findings were published this week in the journal Behavioral Ecology.


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