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Funnel-web males send knockouts in air

2:51pm, August 7, 2001

Male funnel-web spiders seem to be wafting some kind of knockout gas toward the females they court–a tricky gambit since a laboratory test shows the substance can also knock out the male.

Since there's a fine line between a female's next mate and her next meal, spider courtship requires precise diplomacy, explains Fred D. Singer of Radford University in Virginia. The funnel-web spider, Agelenopsis aperta, sidesteps this problem. During courtship, the female curls into a harmless cataleptic state for at least several hours, sometimes days, enabling a male to mate without being eaten.

In their search for the knockout mechanism, Singer and his colleagues let males flirt with females confined in cages that kept the genders at measured distances from each other. Males managed to send the females into a cataleptic state without touching them, but their ability to do so declined substantially as distances exceeded 4.5 centimeters.

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