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Concerning spiders, is there any research on whether web-building is an inherited behavior, or if it must be observed and learned? e.g. Has anyone hatched spider eggs in isolation and observed whether the descendants still know how to build a web?

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Spiders’ ability to weave webs is a classic example of an innate or instinctual behavior. They do not learn to make webs.

The earliest English-language scientific publication that I can find to back this claim is Porter 1906 1, which focuses on variation in the webs of Orb-weaving spiders:

The web of the Orb-weaving Spiders has long been one of the classical examples of animal instinct. It is so definite and complex, and yet so frail a structure and must be rebuilt so often under varying conditions that, a priori, we should expect it to furnish one of the best of fields for the study of the variation of instinct. If the cell of the Honey-bee varies so that, according to Prof. Wilder (73, pp. 654,655), who quotes Prof. Wyman in this connection, there may be a gain or loss of one cell in ten, then from a knowledge of the differing conditions under which the spider works, together with the frailty of the web as compared with the cell, we have as much, and even more, ground for thinking that even greater variation will be found here.

In his review of the literature, Porter directs readers to Menge's 1843 work About the way of life of the arachnids 2 for an overview of spider physiology and behavior, as well as works by Wagner 3,4 as specific references for spider instinct and its variation. Unfortunately, these works are not written in English, so I cannot verify their claims.


References

  1. Porter, J. P. 1906. The habits, instincts, and mental powers of Spiders, Genera, Argiope and Epeira. The American Journal of Psychology, 17(3), 306–357.
  2. Menge, A. 1843. Über die Lebensweise der Arachniden. Neuste Schr. Naturf. Gessell. IV, Danzig.
  3. Wagner, W. 1897. L'Industrie des Araneina. Mem. de l'acad. Imp. des Sci. de St. Petersburg. Tome, XLII, No. II, pp. 269.
  4. Wagner, W. 1900. L'arraignde aquatique (argyroneta aquatica Cl.) son industrie et sa vie. Materia de psychologie comparde. Bull. Soc. Moscou, pp. 61-169.
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    $\begingroup$ Could you add a bit more detail please? For instance, does that paper have evidence that the very first web a spider makes is no worse than their last one? $\endgroup$
    – terdon
    Nov 4 at 15:06
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    $\begingroup$ @terdon It seems to me like (though I know absolutely nothing about this topic) being able to recognize issues with their web and improve upon it next time would require a lot more intelligence than just copying the way another spider makes their web, since it'd involve connecting the problem with its solution. $\endgroup$ Nov 4 at 20:11
  • $\begingroup$ It may be off-topic, but (regarding the first reference) why was such a zoological paper published in a psychological journal? $\endgroup$
    – User
    Nov 5 at 22:43
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    $\begingroup$ Spiders have been sent to the ISS to see if they can weave a web in zero gravity. The interesting thing is that their first attempts were a mess, then after 2 days they mastered it. It shows at least some level of learning. But it is learning from experience, not from imitating others. $\endgroup$
    – Florian F
    Nov 6 at 20:52
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For many species the mother abandons the eggs after laying them and there is no maternal care (sometimes the mother dies after laying eggs, so really no possibility of maternal care). Paternal care is generally completely lacking as well (and sometimes the father is expected to die before hatching). And many of those species are solitary, so not learning from other unrelated spiders. So for those spiders web weaving is obviously innate.

As a bonus, this includes some species of the most dramatic web weavers, orb weaving spiders.

(Note that other spider species are fantastic mothers with a prolonged period of child-rearing, so I guess it's possible that it's learned in those species, but Occam's razor suggests that it's innate in all spiders.)

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Biology.SE! This looks like the start of a good answer, but answers are much more likely to receive a favorable response if you include supporting references (primary literature is best). Without that support, your answer is indistinguishable from opinion and provides no guide to further leaning. This is a good example of how to format references. ——— You may also want to take the tour and then consult the help center pages for additional advice on How to Answer effectively on this site. $\endgroup$
    – tyersome
    Nov 4 at 18:57
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    $\begingroup$ This isn't necessarily true though. I learnt many things from my own parents, but I certainly didn't learn how solve an equation, speak French, or make armpit farts. All those came from other people. Proving that web building is innate would need not only removing the parents from the scene, but also all other spiders - and I think that's the experiment the OP is looking for. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Nov 5 at 9:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Graham "[M]any of those species are solitary, so not learning from other unrelated spiders." $\endgroup$ Nov 5 at 20:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Graham and further, how do you rule out self-learning? How would you prove the spiders inherently knew how to build webs rather than learned to do it on their own? $\endgroup$
    – Ryan_L
    Nov 7 at 3:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Ryan_L Some of the spiders in question have very distinctive webs. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_decoration So that seems to rule out learning from other species. In terms of learning from their own species, some of them tend to only live a year or less (they can live longer if the winter is mild, but the expected life cycle is that eggs survive the winter but adults do not). -- It's also possible that something is innate but still improves over time, e.g. crawling in humans. A newborn doesn't have the muscle control to crawl but will start crawling even without observing others crawling. $\endgroup$ Nov 8 at 14:26

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