Gruesome ‘wedding gifts’ keep male spiders from being eaten

M.Krumbholz/Wikimedia Commons

Gruesome ‘wedding gifts’ keep male spiders from being eaten

Finding a gift for one’s spouse can be stressful, but at least if you screw it up your significant other won’t eat you. Things aren’t so easy for nursery web spiders (Pisaura mirabilis). Males that attempt to court females without bringing a present—typically a dead fly (as seen above)—are roughly six times more likely to end up as lunch themselves, according to a study published today in Biology Letters. Scientists first saw the practice of “nuptial gifts” among nursery web spiders at least 6 decades ago, but the motivations behind the behavior are still not clear. Sexual cannibalism is extremely common among spider species, but nuptial gifts are rare, and whereas some species bring presents to increase the chances of survival of their potential offspring, P. mirabilis males appear to use their gifts to placate and distract mates. Only one male spider that courted with a gift was eaten in this study, and that actually happened after the mating had occurred. Meanwhile, 15 males that didn’t court with nuptial gifts were eaten before they could mate. And whereas the gifts may be food-related, the cannibalism likely isn’t—starving females weren’t any more likely than full ones to make a meal out of their mate.