Investigating the Origins of Niche Shift in Bagheera kiplingi

Category: Animal Science
Table: ANIM1
Experimentation location: School, Field
Regulated Research (Form 1c): No
Project continuation (Form 7): No

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Research Plan:


The diet of Bagheera kiplingi consists of 60-90% the Beltian bodies of Vachellia trees, with the remainder consisting of mostly larvae of Pseudomyrmex ants, making it the only species of spider that has been documented to have a mostly herbivorous diet. While no other spider is known to be herbivorous, prior research suggests that the vast majority of plant-eating arthropods benefit from symbiotic relationships with bacteria in their digestive tract to digest plant material and obtain nitrogen due to plants being nitrogen-poor. With this in mind, the origins of B. kiplingi’s microbiome becomes a fascinating area of study considering the lack of symbiotic relationships of this kind among any of its close genetic relatives. It has been proposed that B. kiplingi accelerated its adoption of a plant-based diet through the consumption of ant larvae, which provide an infusion of bacteria that allows it to temporarily digest cellulose and fix nitrogen. This study aims to test this hypothesis by conducting both DNA and Controlled Environment Diet analysis. 

As an additional objective, B. kiplingi’s unique position in the ecosystem will be capitalized upon to contribute to the field of behavioral ecology as their behaviors will be compared to that of Bagheera prosper (its sister species) and Frigga crocuta (a species of carnivorous jumping spider residing in the same environment). The results of this behavioral analysis can speak to the validity of the optimal foraging theory (OFT) and the locomotor crossover hypothesis (LCH). 


Research Questions: 

  1. Do B. kiplingi possess nitrogen-fixing microbes?
  2. Does the presence of Pseudomyrmex ant larvae impact the ability of B. kiplingi to consume plant material?
  3. Do the differences in the behavior of B. kiplingi when compared to that of B. prosper and F. crocuta support OFT and LCH?



  1. DNA will be extracted from samples of B. kiplingiB. prosper, F crocuta, and Pseudomyrmex peperi using DNA extraction kits. 
  2. Extracted DNA samples will undergo Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) with nifH primers. 
  3. Samples will be sequenced off site and compared to one another. 
  4. In B. kiplingi’s natural habitat, 2 ant-free controlled environments will be set up: one with only plants as food and another with flies and plants for food. The diet and lifespan of B. kiplingi spiders will be documented
  5. Videos of B. kiplingi, B. prosper, and F. crocuta will be used to compare their behaviors by quantifying behaviors such as stationary, reorientation, and movement. 
  6. A Tukey Honestly Significant Difference (HSD) test will be used to determine statistical significance. 



Calderón-Cortés, N., Quesada, M., Watanabe, H., Cano-Camacho, H., & Oyama, K. (2012). Endogenous Plant Cell Wall Digestion: A Key Mechanism in Insect Evolution. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics43(1), 45–71.

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Lozano, G. A. (1998). Parasitic Stress and Self-Medication in Wild Animals. Advances in the Study of Behavior27, 291–317.

Meehan, C., Olson, E., Reudink, M., Kyser, K., & Curry, R. (2009). Herbivory in a spider through exploitation of an ant–plant mutualism. Current Biology19(19), R892–R893.

Moreau, C. S. (2020). Symbioses among ants and microbes. Current Opinion in Insect Science39, 1–5.

Pyke, G. H. (2010, January 1). Optimal Foraging Theory: Introduction (M. D. Breed & J. Moore, Eds.). ScienceDirect; Academic Press.

Questions and Answers

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