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To prevent cannibalism, bring chocolate

The romantic gifts of nursery web spiders will work as self-defense

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9:00am, July 26, 2016
nursery web spiders

A GIFT FOR YOU  Male nursery web spiders (left) present nuptial gifts in the form of insect carcasses wrapped in silk.

Here’s another reason to show up with a box of chocolates: It doubles as a shield if she bites.

Edging slowly toward a female, male nursery web spiders clutch in front of their bodies their version of courtship candy: a big dead insect wrapped in white silk. “It’s pretty spectacular actually,” says Søren Toft of Denmark’s Aarhus University. It’s also prudent, he and colleague Maria Albo reported in the May Biology Letters. Sometimes female Pisaura mirabilis spiders just eat males that come calling. In a lab test, however, suitors bearing gifts were almost one-third as likely to be devoured as males that showed up empty-legged.

Males of diverse animal species go wooing with gifts of food or showy things. Biologists have long discussed the evolution of these nuptial gifts, including the possible benefits for male self-defense.

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