In The Field

ABS: When love hurts

Mating can be a dangerously passionate affair if you’re a redback spider. The pressure to mate successfully inflames males’ passions to such an extent that they rip apart their partner’s exoskeleton in their desire to consumate their union.

Male redbacks embark on the aggressive mating when the female is in the final subadult stage, on the cusp of full sexual maturity, reports Maria Biaggio of the University of Toronto at Scarborough, who made the discovery. This way, they ensure that they are the first to inseminate a female, which is of crucial importance in the face of potential competition from other males. The tactic arose because the odds are stacked against males, for whom the mating game can be a life-or-death struggle – not least because an adult female will often eat him during courtship. Mating of sub-adult females has never before been seen in this species, but it explains why male redbacks are often seen living with juvenile females, says Biaggio – they are keeping a close eye on them until it’s time to mate. Talk about jealous boyfriends…

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