Nursery web spider uses ‘shield’ for defence

How a male nursery spider avoids being eaten by a female. 

Nursery web spider (Pisaura mirabilis) - male on a leaf, with webbed booty bridal gift

There are two reasons why a male nursery web spider shouldn’t court a female empty-handed.

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If he fails to present a silk-wrapped fly, he will be rejected outright; and, according to new research, he won’t have anything to defend himself with if she tries to eat him.

Female nursery webs rarely attack suitors. But when they do, the male loses everything.

Unlike other cannibalistic spiders, such as black widows, females attack before mating not after it.

The male doesn’t even get the consolation that his body will nourish a female bearing his offspring.

Happily, the male can use the offering as a handy shield to ward off the female’s fangs if she does attack.

“The male holds it in his jaws, keeping it between himself and the female,” said Søren Toft of Aarhus University, Denmark. “We’ve seen aggressive females get their jaws caught in the gift.”

The male can then turn the situation to his advantage. “Once she hits the gift, the attack stops and it turns into a mating,” said Toft.

Source Biology Letters

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