Sociality in spiders has evolved independently multiple times, resulting in convergently evolved cooperative breeding and prey capture. In all social spiders, prey is captured by only a subset of group members and then shared with other, non-attacking group members. However, spiders' propensity to attack prey may differ among species due to species-specific trade-offs between risks, costs and benefits of prey capture involvement. We explored whether engagement in prey attack differs among three social Stegodyphus species, using orthopteran prey, and found substantial differences. Stegodyphus mimosarum Pavesi, 1883 had a low prey acceptance rate, was slow to attack prey, and engaged very few spiders in prey attack. In S. sarasinorum Karsch, 1892, prey acceptance was high, independently of prey size, but more spiders attacked when prey was small. While medium-sized prey had higher acceptance rate in S. dumicola Pocock, 1898, indicating a preference, the number of attackers was not affected by prey size. Our results suggest that the three species may have different cooperative prey capture strategies. In S. mimosarum and S. dumicola, whose geographical ranges overlap, these strategies may represent niche specialization, depending on whether their respective cautious and choosy approaches extend to other prey types than orthopterans, while S. sarasinorum may have a more opportunistic approach. We discuss factors that can affect social spiders' foraging strategy, such as prey availability, predation pressure, and efficiency of the communal web to ensnare prey. Future studies are required to investigate to which extent species-specific cooperative foraging strategies are shaped by ontogeny, group size, and plastic responses to environmental factors.
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Vol. 50 • No. 2