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Israeli study: Male brown widow spiders prefer females who eat them

Researchers find males consistently choose older mates, despite their being less fertile and far more likely to cannibalize them

A female Brown Widow spider guards her eggs. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)
A female Brown Widow spider guards her eggs. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)

A new Israeli study has shown that male brown widow spiders are more likely to mate with females who will eat them.

The study, reported upon in New Scientist, tested male spiders’ preference when presented with the possibility of mating with females of different ages.

Despite the older females being far more likely to eat them after copulation as well as being less fertile, males showed a clear preference for the more mature mates — both choosing them in greater numbers and making far greater efforts to court them.

“Not only do males give up their future reproductive success by being cannibalized, they also seem to choose the females that are more likely to cannibalize them,” lead study author Ally Harari of Tel Aviv’s Agricultural Research Organization said.

Harari said older females may trick males by emitting pheromones that present them as highly fertile.

“Old females are more desperate for mating, thus they may put more effort into advertising their availability,” Harari said. “It’s possible that males are duped into mating with them.”

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