See how male spiders catapult to escape sexual cannibalism

Two Philoponella prominens spiders mating. If the male is fast enough, he will catapult himself to safety.

shichangzhang

Some female spiders have a reputation for widowhood by eating their mates after copulation. But some male orb-weaver spiders have evolved a dramatic survival mechanism: catapulting themselves to safety at high speeds.

A team of researchers led by ecologist Shichang Zhang of Hubei University in China published a study on the spiders’ energy leaks in the journal Current Biology on Monday.

Male Philoponella prominens orb-weaver spiders are the kangaroos of the arachnid world.

“Using a previously undescribed mechanism, male spiders use a joint in their first pair of legs to immediately engage in a split-second catapult action, launching themselves away from their mates at impressive speeds recorded at up to 35 inches per second (cm/s),” Cell Press, the publisher of Current Biology, said in a press release on Monday.

The researchers captured video of the catapult action showing the fast escape method of the males.

Males that did not catapult immediately after sex were caught and eaten “in an act of sexual cannibalism”. The discovery came when the team studied sexual selection in orb weavers, which live together in large communities. They observed 155 successful matings with 152 ending in a catapult to freedom. The three that didn’t catapult became dinner.

To test the observations, the researchers stopped 30 males from catapulting. Those males also became dinner.

“Females can use this behavior to judge the quality of a male during mating,” said Zhang. “If a male can’t catapult it, then he kills it, and if a male can perform it multiple times, then he accepts sperm from him.”

It may be a world of spiders eating spiders, but at least some of the arachnids have discovered the secret to survival. It requires strong legs and good timing, which is life advice that could apply to many of us.

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