Web designs of young spiders are often less derived than those of older conspecific individuals. This study tested whether this “ontogeny repeats phylogeny” pattern occurs in two species of Latrodectus and two species of the closely related genus Steatoda. This pattern was assumed to occur in a recent study of a third Latrodectus species, L. geometricus, which attempted to deduce a probable evolutionary derivation of gum-foot webs of theridiids on the basis of ontogenetic changes. We found the same basic ontogeny repeats phylogeny ontogenetic pattern in all four species, suggesting that the previous suppositions were justified. As expected, the webs of the young instars of the two Latrodectus species were more similar than those of the adults, and were more similar to those of young than to those of adults of L. geometricus. One apparently derived trait of L. mirabilis, attaching prey remains as camouflage for the spider in the central portion of the web, did not change during ontogeny, and was present in even the webs of first-instar spiderlings. Field observations of L. mirabilis suggest that the ontogenetic change from light to darker abdominal color patterns that occurs in many Latrodectus species may result from changes in selection for camouflage associated with ontogenetic changes in web designs and the spiders' resting sites. The webs of Steatoda also fit the ontogenetic pattern: at least some ontogenetic changes in both species involved younger spiders having less derived traits than those of adults. The webs of young Steatoda spiders were more derived in some respects than those of the early instars of Latrodectus.
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Vol. 38 • No. 3