Risky Courtship: Background Contrast, Ornamentation, and Display Behavior of Wolf Spiders Affect Visual Detection by Toad Predators
Males that search widely for females and perform conspicuous courtship displays run a high risk of being detected by their predators. Therefore, gains in reproductive success might be offset by increased mortality due to predation. Male brush-legged wolf spiders (Schizocosa ocreata) with larger decorative traits (foreleg tufts) are preferred by females as mates, but are more readily detected by predators. However, predation risk may also be influenced by the interaction between components of signals and the environment in which signaling occurs. Courting male spiders were readily accepted as prey by a sympatric predator, the American toad (Anaxyrus americanus). We used video playback to tease apart the interactive effect between visual signals and the signaling environment on the ability of toads to detect courting spiders as a function of distance, background contrast, the presence or absence of male foreleg tufts, and behavioral activity. The response of toads to video sequences of male spiders was similar to their response to live male spiders. Toad response varied over distance toward spiders displayed against high contrast (sunny) vs. low contrast (shaded) backgrounds. Beyond 30 cm, more toads detected courting male spiders against light, ‘sunny’ backgrounds and detected them faster when compared to the same spider stimulus against darker, ‘shady’ backgrounds. In choice tests, toads oriented more often toward courting males with leg tufts than those without. Toad responses also varied with male spider behavior in that only videos of moving males were attacked. Latency to orient and detection by toads was significantly greater for walking males than courting males, and this effect was most evident at distances between 30 cm and 50 cm. Results supported that courting wolf spiders are at significant risk of predation by visually acute predators. Distance, background contrast, and the presence of foreleg decorations influence detection probability. Thus, the same complex visual signals that make males conspicuous and are preferred by females can make males more vulnerable as prey to toads.