all for love

Sex among the arachnids isn’t particularly romantic to the human eye: female spiders routinely attempt to munch on their mates during or after copulation. And it makes sense: The females need the extra nutrition for their offspring-to-be. Most males try to escape this dire fate, but not the male of the species Argiope aurantia. This orb-weaving spider invariably dies spontaneously during copulation, according to a study published last week in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters. Experiments by Matthias Foellmer and Daphne Fairbairn at the University of California at Riverside show that death is triggered immediately upon insertion of the second of the male spider’s two sex organs, resulting in a seizure that stops his heart within minutes. The researchers speculate that the male’s dead body acts as a temporary chastity belt, preventing the female from mating again and giving his sperm time to fertilize her eggs. The female is completely innocent in her Romeo’s death and she still gets to eat his dead body, with no guilt involved.

This news brief appeared in the Random Data column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 7/01/2003.
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