Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Male Black Widows Sniff Out Femme Fatales

I am thrilled to announce that this month I am joining a new top-notch science blogging team at Scitable, Nature Education’s award-winning science education website! (But don’t worry, friends. I will continue to post here about animal physiology and behavior every Wednesday). Next week, Scitable will be launching eleven new blogs covering topics like neuroscience, genetics, oceanography, physics and more. I will be co-authoring an evolution blog called Accumulating Glitches together with Sedeer el-Showk (the author of the fantastic nature blog Inspiring Science). To celebrate the launch of these new science blogs, many of us are writing guest posts at Student Voices, another Scitable blog. What follows is the start of my guest post:

A female western black widow contemplates the tastiness
of her suitor. Photo by Davefoc at Wikimedia Commons.

Sexual reproduction is a costly affair, but the costs are not usually equal for males and females. Among animals, females generally produce larger gametes (eggs are way bigger than sperm), spend more energy gestating or incubating the young before they are born, and spend more effort caring for the young after they are born. It’s no wonder then that across animal species, females are typically more choosy of who they mate with than males are.

But what if the tables are turned and sex is more costly for males than it is for females? Such is often the case for black widow spiders, named for the females’ infamous reputation for making a post-coital snack of their mates. In such a situation where every sexual encounter is potentially the last, who would blame males for being more choosy of their mating partners? But are they?

To find out, read the rest of the post here!

And to find out more, check this out:

Johnson, J., Trubl, P., Blackmore, V., & Miles, L. (2011). Male black widows court well-fed females more than starved females: silken cues indicate sexual cannibalism risk Animal Behaviour, 82 (2), 383-390 DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2011.05.018

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