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Abstract

Post-mating sexual cannibalism occurs as a regular element of mating behaviour in a number of spider species. Frequencies of cannibalism, however, are highly variable between and within species. In Argiope bruennichi, males apparently differ in their motivation to escape a female attack but causes for this variability are unknown. We observed that the probability of sexual cannibalism is positively correlated with male age, i.e. the number of days that passed between male maturation and copulation. The mating season in this species is short with 3–4 wk and males mostly mature days before the females, whose maturation phase is longer. Consequently, as the season progresses, the availability of virgin females increases, quickly reaches a peak and then rapidly declines. In addition, the age of still unmated males increases with the season and both of these factors can potentially affect the degree of sexual cannibalism. To separate these factors, males were collected in their penultimate stage and kept until mating either with or without contact to female pheromones. Thereby, we experimentally manipulated the male’s perception of female presence. Within each treatment, we formed three male age groups: (1) 2–6 d, (2) 12–16 d and (3) 22–28 d. Our results demonstrate that the probability of cannibalism was independent of male age but was explained by the treatment of males: males exposed to virgin female pheromones were significantly more likely to be cannibalised than males that were kept without female pheromones. This suggests that males change their reproductive strategy according to perceived mating prospects.