Senior Lecturer and Senior Research Associate, Department of Entomology
While earning my Ph.D. at the University of Kansas studying social behavior in prairie dogs three events changed my life. In the third year of my dissertation, plague killed 1,500 prairie dogs in the colonies I was studying, necessitating a much more comparative study of social dynamics in other ground squirrels. Second, I became fascinated with spiders, particularly the social spiders, and realized that many of the research questions I was most interested in could be done more effectively with spiders than mammals. Third, I spent an extraordinary semester in Costa Rica on an Organization for Tropical Studies course where I became enchanted with the tropics and had the chance to study diverse spider behavior. After returning to Costa Rica for research on helicopter damselflies that predate on web-building spiders, I taught ‘Tropical Ecology’ for three summers in Monteverde, Costa Rica. I then studied how predation risks and foraging success changes for individuals within colonies of the colonial orb-weaving spider, Metepeira incrassata, in Mexico in my first postdoctoral position.
Since 1994, I have been in the Department of Entomology at Cornell University. My research focus has been on the comparative costs and benefits of group-living in prolonged subsocial and solitary huntsman spiders (Sparassidae). I’ve focused primarily on the remarkable endemic Australian huntsman, particularly the unusual prolonged subsocial species, Delena cancerides, and compared the behavioral, physiological, and phylogenetic patterns across the huntsman to better understand what factors influence the evolution of sociality. I teach Spider Biology, Social Animal Behavior: Arthropods to Apes, and the Naturalist Outreach Practicum.
Scientific outreach and communication permeate all aspects of my career. I give popular talks on spiders around the country and have starred in the two seasons of Discovery Channel’s Monster Bug Wars. I direct the Naturalist Outreach Program which has reached over 15,000 children and adults in CNY and beyond and trained over 370 Cornell students how to do great science outreach. My 36 Naturalist Outreach STEM videos translate powerful concepts about ecology, nature, and biodiversity into short appealing videos reaching over 3-million viewers. As a major force in maintaining Insectapalooza, Department of Entomology’s large 1-day Insect Festival, and the host of the Arthropod Zoo since 2004, I’ve helped convince a generation of students that sharing science with the public is worthwhile.
- 1990 – 1992. Postdoctoral Research Associate. University of Arizona, Tucson.
- 1987 – 1989. Postdoctoral Research Associate. University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati.
- 1987. Ph.D. (Systematics & Ecology, specialty Behavioral Ecology) University of Kansas- Lawrence.
- 1978. B.A. (Molecular Biology). University of Colorado - Boulder.
I am a behavioral ecologist whose studies focus on the evolution of sociality in spiders. My recent research has explored behavioral, physiological, and phylogenetic aspects of sociality in huntsman spiders (Sparassidae). To better understand what behavioral and physiological lead to the evolution of group-living in otherwise cannibalistic spiders, I have compared the early mother-offspring behavior, life-history, running speed, morphology, and some aspects of physiology of 42 social and solitary huntsman species from Australia, SE Asia, and Africa. Huntsman spiders are a large, understudied family that are notable for their large size, speed, and the presence of a small number of species that I have termed ‘prolonged subsocial’ whose social organization and physiology are exceedingly unusual compared to other social spiders (Yip & Rayor 2014). The prolonged subsocial species have a single adult female in the group, but instead of her offspring remaining with her for a few weeks as in most subsocial spiders, the prolonged subsocial species remain in an interactive family group with multiple clutches for 6 months to 1-year. When I started research in this group, there was only a single prolonged subsocial species, Delena cancerides. I have now discovered prolonged subsociality in four additional huntsman species! My research has focused on the diverse Australian huntsman fauna.
Since 1998, I have directed the Naturalist Outreach Program to send Cornell University students into classrooms throughout Central NY to talk about nature, ecology, and biodiversity [http://blogs.cornell.edu/naturalistoutreach. I believe that directly training college students how to do effective science communication and teaching skills greatly benefits is hugely beneficial, and that science outreach is a form of civic activism for scientists. Many of my invited seminars share how to start similar outreach programs at other colleges or institutions.
Gorneau*, J.A., C.A. Rheims, C. Moreau, & LS Rayor 2022. Huntsman spider phylogeny informs evolution of life-history, egg sacs, and morphology. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution (in press).
Hurst*, J.A. & L.S. Rayor. 2021. Effects on running speed of changes in sexual size dimorphism at maturity on the cursorial huntsman spider, Delena cancerides (Sparassidae). Journal of Comparative Physiology A. 207: 269 – 277. (https://doi.org/10.1007/s00359-021-01469-3). Special Issue on Locomotion and Kinematics in Arthropods.
Jones*, C. & L.S. Rayor, 2017. Retreat availability and social influences on retreat sharing in group-living huntsman spiders, Delena lapidicola and Delena cancerides (Araneae: Sparassidae). Journal of Arachnology 45(03): 271-276.
Yip, E.C. & L.S. Rayor. 2014. Maternal care and subsocial behavior in spiders. Biological Reviews. 89: 427–449. (doi: 10.1111/brv.12060)
Agnarsson, I. & L.S. Rayor, 2013. Molecular phylogeny reveals the evolutionary patterns of sociality in Australian endemic Deleninae huntsman spiders (Sparassidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 69: 895–905.
Rayor, L.S. 2016. Hidden housemates: Australia’s huge and hairy huntsman spiders. The Conversation.
Yip, E.C. & L.S. Rayor. 2013. The influence of siblings on body condition in a social spider: Is prey sharing cooperation or competition? Animal Behaviour. 85:1161-1168
Yip, E.C., D.M. Rowell, & L.S. Rayor. 2012. Behavioural and molecular evidence for selective immigration and group regulation in the social huntsman spider, Delena cancerides (Araneae: Sparassidae). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. 106: 749–762.
Rayor, L.S. & Taylor, L*. 2006. Social behavior in amblypygids, and a reassessment of arachnid social patterns. Journal of Arachnology 34: 399-421.
Rayor, L.S. & G.W. Uetz, 1993. Ontogenetic shifts within the selfish herd: predation risk and foraging tradeoffs change with age in colonial web-building spiders. Oecologia 95:1-8.
Awards & Honors
- Animal Behavior Society Distinguished Teaching Award, 2015
- Innovative Teacher Award – Cornell University, 2007
- Kaplan Family Distinguished Faculty Fellow in Service Learning – Cornell University, 2005.
- Distinguished Achievement Award in Teaching, Entomological Society of America 2008
- Distinguished Achievement Award in Teaching, Entomological Society of America 2016
Spider Biology [Entom 2150/ 3150, 2 or 3 cr]
Naturalist Outreach Practicum [Entom 3350 4 cr,]
Social Animal Behavior: Arthropods to Apes [Entom 3375, 3 cr]
Insect Behavior [Entom 3250, 3 cr – not currently taught]
Cornell Adult University – Eight-Legged Science: Biology and Behavior of Spiders. (adult, teen classes)
lsr1 [at] cornell.edu
Linda in the news
- Department of Entomology