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Spiders Always Remember Their First

October 27 2003

A female wolf spider’s adolescent experiences with male courtship can determine whether her adult romantic encounters result in mating or in cannibalistic meals, according to “Subadult experience influences adult mate choice in an arthropod: Exposed female wolf spiders prefer males of a familiar phenotype” by Eileen A. Hebets.

Several vertebrate species, including birds, reptiles, and humans, can develop mating preferences partially based on social interactions. However, invertebrate examples of this phenomenon are virtually nonexistent. To determine if social interaction shapes mating preferences in wolf spiders, Eileen Hebets exposed adolescent females of the species Schizocosa uetzi to courtship advances from sexually active adult males. This species displays an elaborate courtship ritual in which males arch their darkly pigmented forelegs, which range in color between brown and black. Before presenting males to the subadult females, Hebets painted the tibias of each male's forelegs with either brown or black nail polish, representing the extremes of the natural phenotype. She then allowed each adolescent female to interact with males of only one color. After the females reached adulthood, Hebets paired the females with a male of either a familiar or an unfamiliar color. Females were more likely to mate with familiar-looking males and, alternatively, more likely to avoid mating with and cannibalize unfamiliar males. These results suggest that spiders indeed develop socially influenced mate preferences similar to those in vertebrate species.

“Subadult experience influences adult mate choice in an arthropod: Exposed female wolf spiders prefer males of a familiar phenotype” by Eileen A. Hebets, PNAS online edition

Abstract © 2003 PNAS

Eileen A. Hebets is in the Department of Neurobiology & Behavior, Cornell University. Ithaca, NY.

On CBC’s Quirks & Quarks, host Bob McDonald interviews Eileen Hebets on this research.
Q&Q Wolfing Down Wolf Spiders, 11 15 03

Eileen Hebets Lab web site, 02 23 08