Why are pitfall traps so rare in the natural world?

Ruxton, G.D. and Hansell, M.H. (2009) Why are pitfall traps so rare in the natural world? Evolutionary Ecology, 23(2), pp. 181-186. (doi: 10.1007/s10682-007-9218-0)

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Publisher's URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10682-007-9218-0


Prey capture by trapping is uncommon taxonomically, and generally requires highly evolved cognitive powers (humans) or specialist self-secreted materials (for example, spiders and caddisfly larvae). The most notable exception to this is the conical traps dug by antlion larvae. The relative uncommonness (taxonomically and ecologically) of such pitfall traps has been described as an unexplained mystery in recent publications. Here we suggest some potential routes that might lead to resolution to this mystery. We argue that although such pitfall traps have numerous benefits and are relatively cheap and easy to construct, they may suffer two significant disadvantages relative to, for example, spiders' webs. First, pitfall traps may require a quite specialist microhabitat. Second, antlion pitfall traps may only work to retain all but the smallest prey if the antlion is present at the bottom of the pit. Thus, antlion may be more functionally tied to their trap than spiders and (since traps are much more visually conspicuous than their owners) this may make them vulnerable to predators and parasitoids that cue on the traps. Both these hypothesised drawbacks are speculative in the absence of a strong body of data and so we discuss how both potential costs could be explored empirically

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Ruxton, Professor Graeme and Hansell, Professor Michael
Authors: Ruxton, G.D., and Hansell, M.H.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Biodiversity, One Health & Veterinary Medicine
Journal Name:Evolutionary Ecology

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