Multimodal and Multifunctional Signaling? – Web Reduction Courtship Behavior in a North American Population of the False Black Widow Spider

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Scholarly level: 
Graduate student (PhD)
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Fischer A, Goh XH, Varney J-LS, Blake AJ, Takács S, Gries G (2020) Multimodal and multifunctional signaling? – Web reduction courtship behavior in a North American population of the false black widow spider. PLoS ONE 15(2): e0228988. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0228988.

Date created: 

Males of widow spiders courting on the web of females engage in web-reduction behavior which entails excising a section of the web, bundling it up, and wrapping it with their silk. Males of the false black widow spider, Steatoda grossa, in European populations also produce stridulatory courtship sound which has not yet been studied in their invaded North American range. Working with a North American population of Sgrossa, we tested the hypotheses that (1) web reduction by males renders webs less attractive to rival males; (2) deposition of silk by courting males has an inter-sexual (male-female) signal function that enhances their likelihood of copulation; and (3) stridulatory sound is a courtship signal of males. Testing anemotactic attraction of males in Y-tube olfactometer experiments revealed that reduced webs (indicative of a mated female) and intact webs (indicative of a virgin female) were equally attractive to males. Recording courtship behavior of males with either functional (silk-releasing) spinnerets or spinnerets experimentally occluded on the web of virgin females showed that males with functional spinnerets were more likely to copulate with the female they courted. Although males possess the stridulatory apparatus to produce courtship sound, they did not stridulate when courting or copulating on the web of females. Our data support the conclusion that web-reduction behavior of Sgrossa males in their invaded North American range has no long-range effect on mate seeking males. Instead, web-reduction behavior has an inter-sexual signaling function that seems to be linked to functional spinnerets of the courting male. The signal produced by a male likely entails a volatile silk-borne pheromone, but may also embody a gauge of his endurance (the amount of time he engages in web reduction causing web vibrations).

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