familiarity breeds breeding

Female wolf spiders, being of a practical nature, commonly eat their suitors. Eileen Hebets, a Cornell University researcher, has some advice for the males who’d like to better their chances of surviving a tryst: Perhaps an introduction might be in order. It appears that female spiders can recognize one male spider from another and familiar-looking spiders have a better chance of not being cannibalized. Males of most other spider species appear alike, but each male wolf spider has its own special look: Some have ornamental tufts of hair on their legs and their exoskeletons come in different colors. As Hebets reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences last week, she introduced 81 sexually immature females to a variety of sexually mature males. She discovered that once the females were ready to mate, they consistently chose males that looked like the males they had been introduced to earlier. The females also were found to be more likely to devour spiders that looked completely unfamiliar to them. Stated Hebets: “This shows that invertebrates have social recognition.” Surprisingly enough, even for spiders, “social experience influences mate choice.”

This news brief appeared in the Random Data column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 11/04/2003.
This entry was posted in boston globe, news briefs. Bookmark the permalink.