• multiple mating;
  • secretion;
  • sexual selection;
  • sperm competition

One of the various male strategies to prevent or impede female remating is the production of a mating plug that covers the female genital opening or remains inside of the female genital tract after mating. Such structures have been described for many species in many animal taxa; however, in most cases, we know little or nothing about their specific adaptive value. Our investigations demonstrate that females of the dwarf spider species Oedothorax retusus (Westring, 1851) (Linyphiidae, Erigoninae) exhibit a substance on one or both of her paired genital openings only after copulation. We performed double-mating trials and forced the second male to mate into the previously used or unused spermathecal duct of the female by amputating one of his paired male gonopods (pedipalps). Furthermore, to investigate whether the duration of the first mating has an effect on the size and efficiency of the mating plug, we interrupted first matings after either 1 or 3 min, categorized plug size and recorded mating behaviour of subsequent males. The amount of secretion transferred was larger in long compared to short copulations. A long first copulation successfully prevented subsequent males from mating into the used ducts, whereas mating success after short first matings was similar to matings into unused copulatory ducts of the females. The present study demonstrates that a male O. retusus can prevent a rival from transferring sperm into the same spermatheca by applying a mating plug, but only if he mates for long enough. © 2009 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2009, 96, 574–583.