Life on Earth: Catapulting Spiders Avoid Cannibalism: A Note on Emerging Science

Male Philomena prominens jump off females after mating to avoid being eaten. Pictured is a spider from the genus Uloborus, the same genus as P. prominens. (Photo: Robert White, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Sexual cannibalism, in which the female eats the male after mating, is common in many spider species. Don Lyman of Living on Earth reports on Philoponella prominens males that have evolved to eject from females after copulation to escape their hungry jaws.


BASCOMB: This is life on Earth, I’m Bobby Bascomb.

The climate debt crisis in a minute, but first this note on emerging science from Don Liman.


LYMAN: After mating, male Philoponella prominens, a species of orb-weaving spider, leap from cannibalistic females at speeds of up to nearly three feet per second, researchers recently reported in Current Biology. Some spiders jump to catch prey or avoid predators, but researchers said P. prominens is unusual among spiders in that males jump away from their partners to avoid cannibalization by female spiders after mating. Females of many species of spiders eat their male sexual partners after mating. According to researchers at Miami University in Ohio, the reason female spiders cannibalize male spiders appears to be the size factor. In spider species where the males are small, they are more likely to become prey because they are easier to capture. Larger female spiders eat their smaller male partners because the females are hungry and because they can catch them. Scientists studying the mating behavior of P. prominens noticed that the males always seemed to eject from the female, but the males were moving so fast that ordinary cameras could not capture the details of the males’ leaps to safety. High-definition video recorded the male spiders’ speeds of about one foot to three feet per second, the researchers reported.
Of the 155 successful matings observed by the researchers, 152 males survived. The three male spiders that did not jump were eaten by the female spiders. The scientists also used an experimental design that prevented 30 male spiders from jumping to safety after mating. All 30 of these experimental males were cannibalized by their mates. P. prominentns are native to Asian countries including Korea and Japan and are a social species. Up to 300 of the spiders can come together to weave a colony of neighboring webs, but female P. prominens seem to leave their neighbors alone and strictly cannibalize their mates. That’s this week’s emerging science note. I’m Don Liman.


Read the original article here

National Geographic Magazine | “These spiders ‘catapult’ to avoid being eaten after mating”

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