Sexual Selection in the Water Spider: Female Choice and Male–Male Competition


Prof. Dr. Michael Taborsky, Department of Behavioural Ecology, Institute of Ecology and Evolution, University of Bern, Wohlenstr. 50a, CH-3032 Hinterkappelen, Switzerland.


The water spider Argyroneta aquatica is the only spider spending its whole life under water, and one of the few spider species in which males are larger than females. Previous studies indicated that males can cannibalize females, which is uncommon among spiders. Here we aimed to further test for a potential influence of sexual selection on male body size. We examined the importance of female choice by testing whether females prefer the larger of two simultaneously presented males as mating partners. Further, we examined the influence of male–male competition by comparing the fighting behaviour between large and small males when alone or when together with a female, and we determined the outcome of fights. We found that females approach and choose large males as mating partners, despite the risk of male cannibalism. Additionally, males intensively compete for females, and large males clearly win against smaller ones. Hence sexual selection seems to be important for the evolution of the peculiar sexual size dimorphism of water spiders, as large size is beneficial for males in both the intra- and intersexual context. Previous studies have suggested an important role of natural selection in the sex-specific body size of water spiders, but natural and sexual selection mechanisms apparently work in the same direction, favouring large male size.