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'Scent of a woman' tells male redback spiders to find a mate

If men think finding a nice partner to settle down and raise children with is tough, consider the plight of the male Australian redback spider. Instead of personality conflicts, spats over in-laws and financial worries, imagine that immediately after the first time you have sex, your partner -- who is 100 to 200 times your body weight -- will eat you alive.

Not the ideal honeymoon, perhaps. But redback males, who get only one mating opportunity -- an uncommon occurrence in nature -- have a few tricks up their (eight) sleeves. A new study by researchers at the University of Toronto at Scarborough has identified developmental adaptations in male Australian redback spiders (Latrodectus hasselti) that give these guys an edge in their deadly dating game. The study in the April 4 issue of Current Biology reports that males develop faster based on the population density of males and females around them -- the first time such a phenomenon has been shown in any animal.

"It shows that males are really tracking the selection pressures that they're facing in an environment -- they're aware of male density and the amount of competition they're going to be facing," says Michael Kasumovic, a PhD candidate in the UTSC laboratory of Professor Maydianne Andrade. "It's the first time that it's been shown that males are actually changing their development in response to both sexual and natural selection."

Redback spiders are relatives of black widow spiders and the marble-sized female redbacks dwarf the males, who are about the size of a grain of rice. While the females can live for up to two years, males live for only four to eight weeks. Initially, they remain on the web where they were born, but soon disperse when wind conditions are appropriate. Once they settle on their own web they begin molting and building up fat reserves, but once they reach sexual maturity, they cease eating and focus solely on finding a mate. If they are lucky enough to find a female,
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Source:University of Toronto


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