Experiment: Sexual Cannibalism in Spiders

Experiment: Sexual Cannibalism in Spiders

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The experiment was conducted to test three different variables. These variables are an assessment of female aggressiveness, food deprivation, and staged male to female interactions. When testing the female aggressiveness, virgin females were run through a latency of attack assay to determine their aggressiveness. The spiders were given 30 seconds and a cricket was dropped in and a measurement was taken of how long interaction occurred between the cricket and the spider. When testing food deprivation, the number of days that female spiders went without food varied and was paired in groups of 1, 3, and 5 days for routine feeding. It was predicted that the longer female spiders went without food, the hungrier they would be. When testing staged male and female interactions, the males were placed in female containers with open lids as an escape route. Each pair interacted for six hours and all pairs resulted in successful copulation, sexual cannibalism, or the male abandons the female’s web. All instances of cannibalism were precopula and occurred shortly after males initiated their courtship sequence. After interaction, the remaining males were taken out the female web and females that cannibalized a male were given 24 hours to feed on the male before being given another male. A female never cannibalized two males consecutively. It was concluded that females that attacked prey more rapidly were more likely to cannibalize their first male mate. There is no detection of an association between cannibalism or food deprivation and female’s body mass. There is a positive association between the mass of egg cases and the number of offspring in females. The study proved that two factor are important in sexual cannibalism, female hunger state and female aggressiveness. There is also a source of fitness benefit for the female.
The three variables influencing female behavior related to cannibalism are aggressiveness, food deprivation, and male-female interactions. Female’s aggressiveness is related to the aggressive spillover hypothesis. This suggests that sexual cannibalism emerges as a product of selection and sexual cannibalism could be a facet of aggressiveness. Selection that favors aggressiveness can indirectly increase incidence of sexual cannibalism. Under these circumstances, sexual cannibalism threatens to sterilize highly aggressive females. With male-female interactions, mate choice hypothesis comes as a theory. Sexual cannibalism may represent an extreme form of mate choice. This is when females attack undesired males but allow preferred mates to copulate. Lastly, food deprivation can occur in aggressive and nonaggressive females.

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Both however may show greater incidence of sexual cannibalism when encountering low-quality males. More so, nonaggressive females may adjust their behavior depending on their hunger states whereas aggressive females might show more fixed rates of sexual cannibalism.
If there were no factors of food deprivation, the female spider cannibalizing male mates would decrease. This is supported because the female spider never cannibalized two mates consecutively. This practice may become adaptive when there are long periods of no food source. Genetics can play a factor because this is an adaptive trait that is passed because of the longevity of no food source. Aggressiveness can lead to this adaptation as well. Aggressiveness causes females to have a higher likelihood of cannibalizing their first mate. If this trait is adapted and passed, then there will be an increase of cannibalism before mating for offspring.
Over time as sexual cannibalism continues to grow, male behavior must change in response to females. I predict over time that males would change the way they mate, sexual encounters, and mate binding. In mate binding, the male puts silk on the females as he massages her so that her aggression decreases. Decreasing her aggression, causes the likelihood of being eaten to decrease. Changing the way that they mate can still maximize fitness on both parties but males can adapt to the females.
As males adapt to females, females must respond to the male responses. I predict over time that the females would have to adapt to the males responses to their sexual cannibalism. They would have to adapt to traits that help increase the probability of sexual cannibalism. They would have to change what stops them from being aggressive so that the cycle continues.
Because this process could continue on and on indefinitely, there should be long term changes to stop this process from continuing. Long term predictions would be to adapt to a new food source that is plentiful. When food is plentiful, the likeliness of females preying on males would decrease. Also over time they would have to adapt to coexistence for the maximum fitness of males and females. If aggression continues, the female would have to adapt over time to a male’s response so that fitness is achieved by the male. The male can pass his eggs to the female for reproduction and there she may continue to cannibalize is one alternative. This alternative makes it so that the males’ fitness is maximized and the female still is fed.

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