Spontaneous male death during copulation in an orb-weaving spider

Matthias W. Foellmer, Daphne J. Fairbairn


Males of some cannibalistic species of spiders and insects appear to sacrifice themselves by allowing the female to eat them, and the adaptive significance of such drastic terminal reproductive investment has recently been demonstrated for a spider. Typically, the female has to kill the male, but it has been suggested that males of some species in the cannibalistic orb-weaving spider genus Argiope may die in copula without female 'collaboration'. Here, we provide the first experimental evidence to our knowledge of programmed sudden death after onset of copulation in males of the spider Argiope aurantia. Our observations reveal that males invariably die during the insertion of their second pedipalp, regardless of whether they mate with newly moulted, defenceless females or with older mature females that often attack them. We determined experimentally that the death of males is triggered immediately upon insertion of the second palp, when males become unresponsive, and heartbeat ceases within minutes of insertion. We discuss the possible adaptive significance of programmed death during copulation, and argue that male death has evolved in a context other than sexual cannibalism.


  • * Author for correspondence (foellmer{at}vax2.concordia.ca).

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