Hairy legs are sexier, especially for spiders
Male animals go to extreme lengths to attract the opposite sex. Sanjida O'Connell reports
Monday 01 April 1996
Now animal behaviourists Dr Sonja Scheffer, from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, George Uetz, from Albion College, and Gail Stratton, from the University of Cincinnati, have discovered that male brush-legged wolf spiders have evolved black bristly tufts of hair on their front legs to attract females.
The spiders, which live in leaf litter in east American forests, have an elaborate courtship that involves waving and arching their legs at a female. The aim of the game is to mate with her, but in the case of these spiders, as in many of their brethren, avoiding ending up as brunch is of equal consideration. Females that are not ready to mate will lunge towards males with fangs bared and, if given the chance, will kill and eat them. Nearly half of all males are cannibalised after copulation - a male spider's tactic is to freeze in the hope she'll think he's a leaf and not lunch.
Dr Scheffer and her colleagues wondered whether the male's bristly bits were crucial to a female spider's idea of sexiness. They offered females a choice of two males: one complete with tufts, and one that the researchers had shaved. The females seemed to show no preference for males with or without tufts. They mated with the bravest - or most foolhardy - male who was the first to court them. The researchers then tried another approach. They prevented the females from listening to the males.
As well as the elaborate leg waving procedure, males signal to the females by sending vibrations along the ground using their stridulatory organs. The researchers deprived the spiders of sound by placing them on insulating foam. Without the benefit of this extra sense, the females chose males who still had tufts and spurned the shorn spiders. Dr Scheffer concluded that tufts are essential in the mating arena. Female spiders have got good eye-sight, but vibrations do not travel well along the forest floor. A male will thus come into a female's visual range long before she can hear who he is. Since females are prone to eat males once they have performed their function, and are partial to other species of spider, it makes sense for a male to advertise as well as he can who he is and what he is about. A spider's tufts may also act as signal to other males. When spiders live in high densities, they establish the arachnid equivalent of a pecking order. Presumably those with the biggest bristles get to be top of the leaf litter.
- 1 Belgium fan Axelle Despiegelaere lands L'Oreal campaign after World Cup viral photo
- 2 Why I'm on the brink of burning my Israeli passport
- 4 Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
- 5 Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country
Scottish independence: Scots of Corby take matters into their own hands in mock referendum - and deliver overwhelming verdict
Protesters fight to save Arturo, the polar bear sweltering in baking hot zoo
Fry ‘criticises Operation Yewtree in dinner party rant’ calling for tougher laws to deter false sex abuse allegations
Supermoon 2014 in pictures: Moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Saharan remains may be evidence of first race war, 13,000 years ago
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
War is war: Why I stand with Israel
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
Socialist Worker called to apologise over ‘vile’ article saying Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple's death is ‘reason to save the polar bears’
Emergency data law: David Cameron plots to bring back snoopers’ charter
NUT strike: David Cameron announces crackdown on strike action ahead of mass industrial action
competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...
competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...
£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Software En...
£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Software Tea...