Science News

The Female of The Species

Sat, 29th Apr 2006

Part of the show Naked Science Question and Answer

Here's a tale of sex and death - but involving spiders rather than people. Scientists at Aarhus University in Denmark have been studying a remarkable species of spider known as the nuptial gift-giving spider, or Pisaura mirabilis, to give it its Latin name. The female spiders of this species will often attempt to eat the males before or during mating. This is obviously not a good thing for the males, especially if they get munched before they've managed to sow their seed. But the gift-giving spiders have evolved a cunning strategy to get round this. The male spiders turn up with gifts of food for the female spiders, a bit like human males turning up with a box of chocolates. The male spider then "plays dead" to avoid being eaten. But while the female is distracted by eating the present, he sneakily mates with her. So everyone's a winner - the males get to mate while the females get the equivalent of spider chocs. Isn't biology amazing?

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