Sexual cannibalism and mate choice

John Prenter*, Calum MacNeil, Robert W. Elwood

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    79 Citations (Scopus)


    Sexual cannibalism, where a female kills and consumes a courting male, represents an extreme form of sexual conflict and has been proposed as a mechanism of mate choice. We evaluate the evidence for mate choice through premating sexual cannibalism via mate rejection, other indirect mechanisms of mate 'choice' and choice in postmating sexual cannibalism. We highlight a paucity of investigations, particularly of field studies, and note gaps in our knowledge. There is empirical support for the size-dependent sexual cannibalism predicted by mate choice through premating sexual cannibalism. This may represent mate choice operating on absolute male size but it could be a by-product of female foraging behaviour and greater vulnerability of relatively smaller males. Thus, indirect mate choice is as plausible an explanation of size-dependent sexual cannibalism as is direct mate choice based on discrimination of male traits. Direct female choice, mediated through premating sexual cannibalism, has yet to be demonstrated. We suggest a framework for distinguishing direct and indirect choice and note an absence of information on which to test it. There is evidence for sequential mate choice in postmating sexual cannibalism, but the nature or basis of the female's discriminatory behaviour remains unclear. Costs and long-term fitness benefits of the putative mate choice have been largely ignored. Reversed sexual cannibalism, in which the male eats the female, presumably occurs when the gain from food is high and potential gain from mating low and probably has little to do with mate choice.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)481-490
    Number of pages10
    JournalAnimal Behaviour
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2006


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