For the male dark fishing spider, the price of love is death. New research shows that the male Dolomedes tenebrosus (right) expires just after the height of passion, despite no visible assault by his partner.
Scientists collected the common U.S. arachnids (see image) in Nebraska parks and did a little matchmaking. In 25 observed matings, after the male stuffed his sperm into the female's body using his antennalike pedipalp, he immediately went limp and his legs curled underneath him, researchers report online today in Biology Letters.
By counting the pulse rate in the spiders' abdomens, researchers measured the heartbeat of motionless males and confirmed that they do indeed die.
As if death weren't sacrifice enough, the scientists found that lovemaking also disfigures the male. In most spiders, part of the male's pedipalp swells to deliver sperm before shrinking to normal size. In D. tenebrosus, the pedipalp remains enormously enlarged and presumably useless even after the deed is done.
Evolutionary theory predicts male monogamy—such as that shown by the dark fishing spider—when females are larger than males. Smaller animals are more likely to survive to mating age than big ones, the thinking goes, making larger females scarcer than smaller males. And that means males must settle for just one inamorata. True to theory, the female dark fishing spider, whose outstretched legs span a human's palm, outweighs her man 14-to-1.
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