Study shows some spiders have individualized personalities

Stegodyphus lineatus
Stegodyphus lineatus. Credit: Wikipedia

( —Researchers studying the Stegodyphus sarasinorum spider in India have found that individual specimens have different personality traits from one another. In their paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the team report that some spiders in the field study exhibited more "boldness" than did others.

Scientists have known for many years that animals have distinct personalities—cats and dogs are prime examples. Less clear is whether smaller organisms with smaller less developed brains do as well. To find out, the researchers in India focused on Stegodyphus sarasinorum, one of the few that live in colonies. Rather than focus on a range of different types of possible personalities, the team chose instead to focus on just one: boldness. With spiders, boldness is a characteristic that describes a tendency to rush out of the nest to see what sort of creature has become stuck in its web, rather than hanging behind watching to see what develops.

The researchers chose the spider colony because scientists suspect that the more social an organism type is the more likely there are to be differing personalities within a group.

To learn which spiders might have which personality traits, the researchers went out into the field and bagged several spider nests and brought them back to the lab. After dissecting the nests, 40 were chosen from each to serve as objects of study—each had colored spots applied to their backs to denote the level of aggression they exhibited when stimulated and to help in identifying them. Next, all of the spiders from the original nests were placed in which were then placed in trees near the research facility. There, the researchers simulated insects being captured in webs and studied the actions of the spiders that occurred as a result.

In analyzing the data, the researchers found that those spiders that had exhibited the most in the first part of the study, were the very same ones that acted most boldly when insects became stuck in their webs—suggesting that individualized in the tends to determine which sort of job they have—those that are bolder tend to be the ones that deal with captured prey, while those that are meeker wind up nurturing offspring or engaging in other less confrontational tasks.

Explore further

Got brown widow spiders? Entomologists seek the public's help for a summer research project

More information: Individual personalities shape task differentiation in a social spider, Published 31 July 2013 doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.1407

Deciphering the mechanisms involved in shaping social structure is key to a deeper understanding of the evolutionary processes leading to sociality. Individual specialization within groups can increase colony efficiency and consequently productivity. Here, we test the hypothesis that within-group variation in individual personalities (i.e. boldness and aggression) can shape task differentiation. The social spider Stegodyphus sarasinorum (Eresidae) showed task differentiation (significant unequal participation) in simulated prey capture events across 10-day behavioural assays in the field, independent of developmental stage (level of maturation), eliminating age polyethism. Participation in prey capture was positively associated with level of boldness but not with aggression. Body size positively correlated with being the first spider to emerge from the colony as a response to prey capture but not with being the first to attack, and dispersal distance from experimental colonies correlated with attacking but not with emerging. This suggests that different behavioural responses to prey capture result from a complex set of individual characteristics. Boldness and aggression correlated positively, but neither was associated with body size, developmental stage or dispersal distance. Hence, we show that personalities shape task differentiation in a social spider independent of age and maturation. Our results suggest that personality measures obtained in solitary, standardized laboratory settings can be reliable predictors of behaviour in a social context in the field. Given the wealth of organisms that show consistent individual behavioural differences, animal personality could play a role in social organization in a diversity of animals.

© 2013

Citation: Study shows some spiders have individualized personalities (2013, July 31) retrieved 16 July 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Jul 31, 2013
If you assume the existence of soul and you come to the conclusion that it makes no sense for man to be the sole repository of soul then you have to assume that animals have it too. If animals have a soul you would expect them to display individual personality traits, which they all do. So how small a brain can house a soul?

Jul 31, 2013
If you assume the existence of soul

What is a soul?

Jul 31, 2013
Oh for crying out loud.

If you have societal or communal animals, there is more room for disparate personality types - meaning you have a reserve of both opportunists who help the colony capture new prey types that might require aggression and quick action, and one of cautious careful spiders who will survive if a predator developed a strategy of stimulating the nest to draw out prey. In either case you'll have survivors, but with multiple individuals you can develop behavioral flexibility that might be beyond an individual organism.

When its just you, there is less leeway for you to survive if you have more of one personality than another. Individuals, especially predators, have to mostly err on the side of caution.

Jul 31, 2013
No telling the cost of the spider study in India. In the meantime, how many children starved to death in an Indian slum?

Jul 31, 2013
Individual character traits result from variances in neuronal biases in the processing and response to information. In one individual there will be a bias toward aggression. In another flight from danger.

In Republican spiders the trend will be to bankrupt their own species through massive borrowing from future generations and then blame the resulting failure on the crickets.

Jul 31, 2013
No telling the cost of the spider study in India. In the meantime, how many children starved to death in an Indian slum?

I don't know. Ask the weapon manufacturers, politicians, bankers, and everyone else out to make a name for themselves in power or money or both. Whining about some guys excited about spiders really is, if possible, an even more wasteful pastime than any of the above examples.

Aug 01, 2013
"No telling the cost of the spider study in India. In the meantime, how many children starved to death in an Indian slum"

You ate yesterday, depriving the world of food that might have saved 1 starving child in India.

Aug 01, 2013
No telling the cost of the spider study in India. In the meantime, how many children starved to death in an Indian slum?

Ditto the resources used to bring you the Internet. Imagine, for instance, the electricity bill for all those millions of routers, servers, etc. As you are in effect consuming those resources, you should stop using the Internet until people stop starving to death.

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