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Even Lady-Spiders Use Sexy Silk to Catch a Male's Eye

Mar 18, 2015 01:34 AM EDT
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Silk has long been seen as a sexy fabric. Smooth and luxurious, it can drape a woman in all the right ways to catch a man's eye. However, human's aren't the only species that uses silk to catch a mate. New research has determined that the female wolf spider will improve her silk draglines when vying for the attention of a male, showing that spider courting isn't always a one-sided affair.

That's at least according to a study recently published in the journal Ethology, which details how males of the wolf spider Pardosa milvina court females longer and more intensively after encountering impressive strands of silk, and likewise are more aggressive after encountering the silk of a virgin lady-spider.

Biologist Matthew Persons of Susquehanna University added in an interview with Fox News that at first glance, this simply seems to enforce the belief that males select their females off passive characteristics, but as he and his colleagues investigated, he learned that female spiders will actually work to attract the attention of uninterested males in particular.

"We were interested to know what kinds of silk females are making and if they change how much or what kinds when they see males in the area, or if they change how much or what kinds they make based on what the male is doing," he told Fox.

After collecting 78 adult males and 156 young lady-spiders from various corn and soybean fields around Pennsylvania, Persons and his team launched a complex experiment to find out. (Scroll to read on...)

The females were placed into contained environments where they could see a male, but could not physically interact with him. The males, in turn, either had the ability to interact with female silk or not, depending on their enclosure.

The males who had access to silk were found to aggressively court the females, even when they did not have physical access to them. Interestingly, males that had no silk in their enclosure showed much less interest for the greener grass (and ladies) on the other side.

And just like many insecure young women in human society, it was the disinterested males that the females tried hardest to attract. Persons' team found that when watching disinterested males, the females produced a lot more silk, and created various kinds of silk structures - like dragline silk, cord silk, and attachment disks - that probably correspond to different kinds of communication.

But what is driving this behavior in the first place? We humans barely understand love and attraction ourselves, but it can be argued that a great deal of it has to do with chemicals. The same goes for these wolf spiders, where various female chemical cues - like pheromones on the silk - may help males find their dream girls. Without these cues, seeing a female may be a lot like seeing a supermodel for the common man.

Sure, she's pretty, but she's inaccessible, and thus there is no point in trying to woo her. When the males did have access to the silk, on the other hand, they were far more willing to play the courtship game, which in turn meant that females could be more coy about when and to whom they chose to respond.

The takeaway? Despite the fact that a great majority of the spider mating and sex-life is rather brutal and sometimes even deadly for males, it's not solely males trying to appease prospective mates. Females too, it seems, have to work to ensure they land a man, helping the otherwise difficult-to-understand world of arachnids become just a bit more relatable.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS

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