The discerning predator: decision rules underlying prey classification by a mosquito eating jumping spider
Evarcha culicivora is an East African jumping spider that feeds indirectly on vertebrate blood by choosing blood-fed female Anopheles mosquitoes as prey. Previous studies have shown that this predator can identify its preferred prey even when restricted to using only visual cues. Here, we used lures and virtual mosquitoes to investigate the optical cues underlying this predator's prey-choice behaviour. We made lures by dissecting and then reconstructing dead mosquitoes, combining the head plus thorax with different abdomens. Depending on the experiment, lures were either moving or motionless. Findings from the lure experiments suggested that, for E. culicivora, seeing a blood-fed female mosquito's abdomen on a lure was a necessary, but not sufficient, cue by which preferred prey was identified, as cues from the abdomen needed to be paired with cues from the head and thorax of a mosquito. Conversely, when abdomens were not visible or were identical, spiders based their decisions on the appearance of the head plus thorax of mosquitoes, choosing prey with female characteristics. Findings from a subsequent experiment using animated 3D virtual mosquitoes suggest that it is specifically the mosquito's antennae that influence E. culicivora's prey-choice decisions. Our results show that E. culicivora uses a complex process for prey classification. © 2012. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.