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

they put all of their resources -- including their life -- into it. In the process, they deposit a sperm plug -- a small part of their copulatory organ that stays inside the female -- that prevents any future males from successfully fertilizing her eggs, meaning that males have to mate with a virgin to maximize their reproductive success.

"On the one hand, they want to provision themselves to survive this trip," says Andrade. "On the other hand, they have to develop quickly so that they become sexually mature in time to mate with these virgin females before the females mate with someone else." These are opposing pressures, and the researchers found that males are able to gauge which issue is most pressing in their particular situation while they are still juvenile and use that information to maintain or speed up how quickly they develop.

"We call it 'scent of a woman,'" Andrade laughs. "They do this without contact -- they smell how many females are around them."

Kasumovic reared males in either the presence or absence of females that the males couldn't see or touch, meaning that the males were responding to female pheromones. "What we were mimicking there was a situation where a male is developing as a juvenile in a habitat with lots of females close by -- in other words, he doesn't need to be well provisioned--versus a situation where female webs are very far away and he would need to be well-provisioned to survive the trip to find her."

When males can smell females, they develop rapidly, trading a smaller body size and less fat reserves against getting to virgin females sooner. The competition is tough -- you'll often find up to eight males on a female's web, says Andrade. The density of males is also critical -- in areas with many males, the researchers found that the males were smaller but had more fat on their body. They suspect that these males need the extra fat for the extended courtship rituals preferred by females -- males
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Source:University of Toronto


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