Costs of courtship and mating in a sexually cannibalistic orb-web spider: Female mating strategies and their consequences for males

M. E. Herberstein*, J. M. Schneider, M. A. Elgar

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    114 Citations (Scopus)


    The costs of courtship and mating may include increased risks of predation, the transmission of pathogens, and a loss of foraging opportunities. Thus, a female's decision to tolerate a courting male will depend upon how these costs offset the benefits of mating, which will depend on her reproductive and nutritional status. While these costs may be similar for mated and unmated females, the benefits of mating will be less for mated than virgin females. However, the cost of lost foraging opportunities may be higher for females with fewer nutritional reserves necessary for forming eggs. We examined how these costs and benefits influence the courtship and mating behaviour of male and female orb-web spiders, Argiope keyserlingi. In the field, females on webs that also contained a courting male intercepted fewer prey items per hour than females on webs without a male. In the laboratory, the presence of a courting male at the hub also attracted mantid predators to the web, increasing the risk of predation for both male and female. Staged mating experiments in the laboratory revealed that the frequency of female attacks and pre-copulatory cannibalism was greater among mated than virgin females. Feeding history did not affect aggression in virgin females but, among mated females, food-deprived spiders attacked and cannibalized males more frequently than sated females and only the latter ever remated. These differences in female behaviour influenced male mating strategies. Choice experiments demonstrated that males preferred to venture onto the silk threads of virgin rather than those of mated females. Similar patterns of mate selectivity were observed in the field; females with narrow abdomens attracted more males to the webs than females with broad abdomens, and copulations were observed more frequently among females with narrow abdomens. These smaller females are likely to be virgins that have recently molted. Males that preferentially mate with virgin females will not only avoid potentially fatal attacks but also obtain, on average, a higher fertilization success.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)440-446
    Number of pages7
    JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2002


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