Exploration of substrate vibrations as communication signals in a webspinner from Ecuador (Embioptera: Clothodidae)

Document Type


Publication Date





Embiopterans are among the least known of all insect orders, and yet their behavior is worthy of investigation for many reasons. They spin silk produced in glands in their front tarsi and live in groups, usually mothers with their young and sometimes in large colonies with many reproductive females sharing the silk. We discovered a large embiid (Clothodidae) in an Ecuadorian rain forest living under camouflaged silk sheets spun onto the bark of trees. Observations in previous studies of a related Trinidadian clothodid revealed that individuals shake and lunge their bodies in response to intruders of their silk domicile. We took the opportunity afforded by the discovery of the large clothodids to rear them in the laboratory and to investigate their communication behavior. We used piezoelectric film to detect substrate vibrations generated by adult females as elicited by a variety of intruders (an artificial stimulus, conspecific female or male, or a female of different species of webspinners). The residents produced three signals distinguishable by behavioral action, frequency (hertz), pulses per bout, and amplitude at peak frequency. We designated these as lift silk, shake, and snapback. Shakes varied the most in amplitude and frequency in response to the different intruders, and therefore, we propose that shakes may transmit the most information as individuals contact each other. This is the first report to characterize spectral qualities and contexts of substrate vibrations in an embiopteran.