The trouble with small male spiders

3:04pm, August 7, 2001

For some spiders, the big guys have all the luck when it comes to mating. But that's turning out to be not so much due to female choice as to old-fashioned mechanics.

Chad Johnson, now at the University of California, Davis, is trying to sort out the evolutionary pressures driving sexual cannibalism–the eating of one's mate–in a North American fishing spider, Dolomedes triton.

"The females are huge, and the males are these wispy, long-legged things a third [the females'] size," Johnson says. In large enclosures in his backyard, Johnson found that one in four males failed in courtship and became lunch instead.

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