Adult female spiders lay batches of eggs in silken egg sacs, and after hatching, the spiderlings live for transient periods in their mother's web before dispersing. Sibling cannibalism is frequently observed among spiderlings of many species under conditions of food deprivation. Here, we conducted assays in small Petri dishes with different densities of newly hatched (second instar) spiderlings of the false widow spider, Steatoda grossa, using a split-clutch design. Prey (freshly killed fruit flies) availability was manipulated both numerically and temporally. Offspring from 10 different females were separated as siblings into densities of two, four, or eight spiderlings per Petri dish and these were provided with either 0 flies (starvation control), two flies, four flies, or eight flies that were replenished weekly or every 3 weeks. A further control was conducted with solitary spiderlings in Petri dishes deprived of flies. The number of surviving spiderlings per Petri dish was counted every 3 days until only one remained (or until death of the solitary spiderling). Our results show that the rate of cannibalism was lower with increasing spiderling density and when fresh flies were replenished more frequently, whereas the number of flies that were provided did not affect cannibalism. In S. grossa, juvenile cannibalism occurs primarily under conditions of extreme food limitation, although in synanthropic habitats where the spider is abundant, it may be an adaptive strategy owing to the potential scarcity of prey. Under certain conditions, cannibalism in spiderlings is adaptive by eliminating competitors and providing nutrient-rich food.
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