What are social spiders? The name sounds more like a new type of social media than an actual arachnid. However, social spiders are exactly that. They are friendly and cooperative spiders, which means they can live in elaborate webs together - sometimes 50,000 strong - and work together to maintain safety, security, and an ample food supply for all. United, they are veritable spider armies.
Not all spiders are social, of course. Most spiders are solitary creatures, but at least seven species among spider families live together in cooperation. There are about 45,000 species of spiders in the world, and approximately 25 among these are social to varying degrees. But, what exactly does the life of a communal spider entail? Here are some amazing social spider facts that will surprise you.
Anelosimus eximius is the most social of all social spider species. They have found hanging out and working together is so amazing that thousands of them live together in enormous webs. This species live in rainforests, and their webs are as large as 25 feet long and five feet wide. Inside these enormous, silky and sticky structures, live as many as 50,000 spiders. Even for a web so large, that's a bit crowded. Both male and female spiders live there, but the female population far overwhelms that of the males.
Both genders work together for the common good. The bigger the web, the more food there is to eat, and thus higher reproductive rates. Everyone in the web has a job to do. Some spiders build and repair the web, some organize and subdue prey, still others work to keep the place clean.
Seriously, even in the spider world, mom knows best. Mother spiders among social species spent more time nurturing their young than other, less social arachnids. In fact, scientists argue it is the very act of nurturing that encourages social behavior in spiders. Some social spider species even have a type of baby spider day care, where a number of grown up female spiders watch over and protect the young of the communal web.
Over decades of observation and research, scientists have discovered that social spiders, just like humans, have distinct and varying personalities. The very fact that social spiders have evolved in that way helps to explain how their communal living system works so well. Each personality is best suited to particular roles within the immense webs they share. For example, a spider with a more aggressive personality would naturally be drawn to a web job that deals with predators and other threats to the web. Or, they may be put in charge of handling prey caught in the web. More docile, laid back social spiders are usually drawn to jobs such as caring for and feeding young spiders in the web, helping to maintain the web structure, or web communications.
From an evolutionary standpoint, it pays to party with your friends. At least it does in the spider world. Research suggests spiders that socialize and build working relationships produce more and healthier progeny. When everyone is pulling together for the common good, the tribe thrives. This approach involves shared labor, and shared down time. The division of labor is crucial to a web's success, with the more "warrior" personalities handling defense and maintenance of the web, and the "passive" types who serve as caregivers. Studies demonstrate that 60% of spider colonies that do not socialize among one another and cooperate together wind up dying out.