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Abstract

Sexual cannibalism may represent an extreme form of male monogamy. According to this view, males gain reproductive success by sacrificing themselves to females. We studied the occurrence and timing of sexual cannibalism in the brown widow spider Latrodectus geometricus and compared male courtship and mating behavior with virgin and with previously mated females. We found that events of sexual cannibalism are frequent, that they occur during copulation and that males initiate cannibalism by placing the abdomen in front of the female’s mouth-parts during copulation (somersault behavior). Both the somersaults and mating occurred more frequently with virgins than with previously mated females. Our results support the hypothesis that sexual cannibalism is a male strategy in this species. The somersault behavior was previously known only from the redback spider, Latrodectus hasselti. It is as yet unknown whether self-sacrifice has evolved more than once in this genus.