Study: Crickets 'forewarn' unborn babies about spiders

February 17, 2010

Just because cricket moms abandon their eggs before they hatch doesn't mean they don't pass wisdom along to their babies. New research in the American Naturalist shows that crickets can warn their unborn babies about potential predator threats.

Researchers Jonathan Storm of the University of South Carolina Upstate in Spartanburg and Steven Lima of Indiana State University placed pregnant crickets into enclosures containing a wolf spider. The spiders' fangs were covered with wax so the spiders could stalk the crickets, but couldn't kill them. After the crickets laid their , Storm and Lima then compared the behavior of those to offspring whose mothers hadn't been exposed to spiders. The differences were dramatic.

When placed into a terrarium with a hungry wolf spider, the crickets born of spider-exposed mothers were more likely to seek shelter and stay there. They stayed hidden 113 percent longer—and as a result had higher survival rates—than offspring from mothers that hadn't been exposed to spiders. Another experiment showed that the "forewarned" crickets were more likely to freeze when they encountered spider silk or feces—a behavior that could prevent them from being detected by a nearby spider.

The results suggest that "the transfer of information from mother to offspring about predation risk, in the absence of any parental care, may be more common than one might think," Storm said.

And it appears that this effect isn't limited to lab-reared crickets. Storm and Lima collected pregnant crickets from the wild—some from habitats where wolf spiders are common, others from places where spiders are scarce. Babies from mothers caught in spider-rich habitats tended to be more cautious around spider cues, much like the lab-reared crickets.

It's not clear from this study exactly how mothers influence the behavior of their offspring. It's possible, the researchers say, that stressful events like predator attacks trigger the release of a hormone that influences the development of the embryo.

Explore further: Giant spiderweb covers Texas park

More information: Jonathan J. Storm and Steven L. Lima, "Mothers Forewarn Offspring about Predators: A Transgenerational Maternal Effect on Behavior." American Naturalist 175:3 (March 2010).

Related Stories

Mosquitoes supply spider with blood

October 11, 2005

Scientists in Sydney, Australia, say they've determined an East African species of jumping spider prefers to prey on blood-engorged female mosquitoes. And that, the Macquarie University researchers said, demonstrates a rare ...

Study: Female crickets steered by sound

October 11, 2005

Cambridge University scientists in England say female crickets react to, and make steering corrections toward, the sound pattern in a male cricket's song.

Ground spider diversity studied in research project

December 30, 2006

None of Takesha Henderson's discoveries are named Charlotte, but they are weaving a new chapter in Texas entomology. Her graduate studies at Texas A&M University have led to the discovery of 25 new spiders in Brazos County ...

Recommended for you

Knowledge gap on the origin of sex

May 26, 2017

There are significant gaps in our knowledge on the evolution of sex, according to a research review on sex chromosomes from Lund University in Sweden. Even after more than a century of study, researchers do not know enough ...

The high cost of communication among social bees

May 26, 2017

(Phys.org)—Eusocial insects are predominantly dependent on chemosensory communication to coordinate social organization and define group membership. As the social complexity of a species increases, individual members require ...

Darwin was right: Females prefer sex with good listeners

May 26, 2017

Almost 150 years after Charles Darwin first proposed a little-known prediction from his theory of sexual selection, researchers have found that male moths with larger antennae are better at detecting female signals.

Why communication is vital—even among plants and funghi

May 26, 2017

Plant scientists at the University of Cambridge have found a plant protein indispensable for communication early in the formation of symbiosis - the mutually beneficial relationship between plants and fungi. Symbiosis significantly ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.