The Role of Body Size in Mating Interactions of the Sexually Cannibalistic Fishing Spider Dolomedes triton


(present address): J. Chadwick Johnson, University of Toronto @ Scarborough, Division of Life Sciences, 1265 Military Trail, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M1C 1A4. E-mail:


Some arachnids display extreme sexual size dimorphism (SSD) with adult females being several times larger than adult males. One explanation for SSD in species that exhibit pre-copulatory sexual cannibalism (female attack, kill and consumption of the male prior to mating) is that smaller males may be less likely victims of predatory attacks by females. However, in some sexually cannibalistic species SSD is relatively moderate (i.e. males are similar in size to females) suggesting benefits of large male body size. Here, I report the results of an experiment designed to explore the ramifications of body size in mating interactions of the sexually cannibalistic, North American fishing spider (Dolomedes triton). Results suggest that male size does not influence courtship behavior, the likelihood of being attacked, or the male's ability to secure a mounting. However, large males were superior at gaining copulations once mounted. Sexual cannibalism may also be predicated on female size. Female condition (mass/cephalothorax area) did not explain any of these behaviors from the copulatory sequence, however, females with a smaller cephalothorax area were more likely to attack courting males. Finally, analysis of the ratio of female size to male size showed that when SSD is weak males are more likely to escape attacks and mate successfully. Results are discussed in light of several hypotheses for sexual cannibalism, and the benefits of large male body size illustrated here are put forth as potential explanations for the relatively moderate extent of SSD found in this sexually cannibalistic species.