Frequent Failure of Male Monopolization Strategies as a Cost of Female Choice in the Black Widow Spider Latrodectus tredecimguttatus


Rainer Neumann, Zoological Institute and Museum, University of Hamburg, Martin-Luther-King-Platz 3, D-20146 Hamburg, Germany.


In many mating systems, males strive for securing paternity through monopolizing females. As male monopolization attempts often contradict female interests, this conflict may fuel an evolutionary arms race. In the widow spider genus Latrodectus, females are commonly polyandrous, whereas males are monogynous, hence restricted to mate with a single female, making paternity protection particularly important. Potential mating plugs (specialized embolus sclerites of male copulatory organs) have been discovered in the complex female genital tracts of several Latrodectus species. In this study, we investigated mating strategies in the Mediterranean black widow spider Latrodectus tredecimguttatus and tested the adaptive value of female attacks against male monopolization efforts. In a double mating experiment, we manipulated the number of insertions (=copulations) for first and second males to assess female behaviour and male embolus sclerite placement success. Our results indicate that first males′ embolus sclerites inside the females′ sperm stores physically block sclerites of subsequent males. While female attacks did not affect the deposition of potential mating plugs, they significantly reduced copulation duration. Irrespective of female aggression, male sclerite placement failure occurred frequently, but large males were more successful than smaller competitors. We suggest that the complex genital morphology in both sexes may have co-evolved antagonistically and female morphology could serve to favour large males for fertilization.