"Latrodectus mactans - male black widow" by Tanthalas39 / CC BY 3.0

How Does a Male Black Widow Find a Mate? Follow the Other Guys

Jul 31, 2019

By Knvul Sheikh

It’s a myth that black widow female spiders always kill and consume their mates. But courtship remains perilous for males, cannibalism or no. The terrain, navigated in the dark, is challenging. The female’s web releases come-hither pheromones, but only about 12 percent of prospective males manage to reach it. And once there, they can expect to face male rivals competing to pass their genes on to the next generation.

Usually, this results in wild displays of machismo. The males slash the female’s webs to make them less enticing to others. They deposit “mating plugs” in the female’s body to block rival sperm.

Why not simply avoid the competition and seek out females’ webs empty of other males? But male black widows actually seem to thrive on the competition, according to a study published Wednesday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. Researchers found that male black widows find potential mates faster by following the silk trails left behind by other males.

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