Climate Change into the Spider-Verse

July 13, 2020

spiders, climate change 

Why, in a warmer world, we may be checking our shoes more often before we put them on, and shaking out those linens.

Climate change is making spiders more aggressive.
Key phrase: “hunt in packs”.

Inverse:

In the most uncomfortable piece of climate crisis-related news yet, a team of scientists believe that the increasing tropical cyclones may be changing the temperament of a “super abundant” spider. As the storms continue to increase in tandem with the planet’s temperature, some of our eight-legged friends are starting to get more aggressive, report scientists in a paper published Monday in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Specifically, these findings refer to a species of group-dwelling spiders called Anelosimus studiosus. They’re “hardly majestic,” lead study author Jonathan Pruitt, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, tells Inverse, but they happen to have very intricate social lives. Along the Gulf Coast, the spiders form multi-female groups that hunt in packs, dwell in group webs, and sometimes rear each other’s children. But the climate crisis may be shifting these old spider traditions toward a less interconnected lifestyle.

In the paper, Pruitt and his team show that hurricanes are actually changing the social and behavior dynamics of these spider colonies. The aggressive spiders in the colonies are well-equipped to handle the chaos, but the less aggressive ones are not. That inequality, he explains, may reshape life in the colony.

“There’s a behavioral tipping point when very very aggressive colonies stop working together, start killing each other, and the group wisely disbands,” he says. “Combine hurricane increases with global warming and I think you could get something like that.”

The species as a whole will fare just fine, he says, in case you’re worried about losing even more animal and insect species to climate change. But the spiders are a good example of the way incomprehensibly large events — say, increases in large storms — can cause minute but significant changes too, like the behavior of a five-millimeter-long spider.

Inverse:

Researchers discovered that Arctic wolf spiders, Pardosa glacialis, are benefitting from the early spring brought on by the climate crisis. They’re able to produce more batches of offspring, called clutches, because warmer temperatures extend the season when the spiders are active, scientists report. 

Researchers dissected individual egg sacs from the spiders and counted the number of eggs and partially developed juvenile spiders. They compared those egg contents with the size of the mothers and determined that the spiders were producing two separate clutches — something previously only observed in spiders living in lower latitudes. 

The spiders birthed during the second clutch appeared significantly later in the season. In years when the snowmelt happened earlier, the first clutches occurred earlier and the second clutches were larger. 

“Likely, females produce their first clutch earlier in those years which allow them time to produce another clutch,” write the authors of the study, published June 24 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B

The study provides the first evidence of invertebrates in the Arctic producing additional clutches as a result of global warming. “This could be a common but overlooked phenomenon due to the challenges associated with long-term collection of life-history data in the Arctic,” the study team explains. 

“Moreover, given that wolf spiders are a widely distributed, important tundra predator, we may expect to see population and food web consequences of their increased reproductive rates.”

3 Responses to “Climate Change into the Spider-Verse”

  1. stephengn Says:

    I live in soupy S.E. Louisiana and can tell you (anecdotal, I know) that I’ve already noticed changes in spider behavior


  2. […] words as GPS coordinates, on the subject of carrying a plague-state passport, and in the “Interesting things about climate change you might have missed” […]


  3. […] I do have to mention one problem. I was sent a link to this article about an interesting spider phenomenon, which reports that “climate change is making spiders more aggressive.” As someone […]


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