A spider’s pursuit of older mates can have grisly results

Young females are more fertile and easy to woo; older females often mate and then eat the male alive. No wonder they’re called widow spiders.

When seeking sex, why wouldn’t the male Latrodectus geometricus spider go for the nice young females? They’re more fertile than their elders. They’ll mate more quickly, without an elaborate courtship. Last but not least: Young L. geometricus females don’t cap off a copulation by cannibalizing their date—while older females do. (That’s what gave the species its common name: the widow spider.)

Given the obvious advantages, a research team in Israel expected L. geometricus males to prefer young females. To test that assumption, researchers set up spider orgies, offering males access to consorts of all ages. Their findings were published in Animal Behaviour.

To get sex with an older female, a male might fight off many rivals or perform courtship gestures for up to six hours. At the magical moment, he’d place one of his two sexual organs into one of her two sexual openings—and she would start to eat him alive. If he survived, he might try to mate again or be too maimed to do so.

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