Saturday, 28 September 2013

Radar Love...


Good things come in small packages...


As I research the characters of Beautiful Creatures I get to embark on my on journey of discovery. The Beautiful Creatures series is one that weaves together stories of perseverance, determination, kindness and adventure through the lens of other species. However, through these journeys the stories are equally infused with lessons about biology, history, geography… The research that I do for the characters is one that nourishes my own need for intrigue by looking to popularise specific lesser, or unknown facts about species that I can weave into the tapestry of my narratives. One of these facts is the concept of nuptial gifts in arthropods. This week I have been researching the practice of how male spiders sweeten the courtship deal by offering females what is known as a nuptial gift. These gifts enhance the likelihood that their advances will be accepted by the female they are courting. The way that this occurs is by boosting a female’s “friendliness” by tapping into her foraging instincts through such offerings. The study in question that I am writing about here, relates to a specific neotropical spider known as Paratrechalea ornata.

So what are some of the reasons for why these spiders gift at all?


The nuptial gift giving behaviour has been explained as a way to both increase male reproductive success by attracting females and facilitating coupling. Some scientists also agree that the nuptial gift is a way for males to invest in the reproductive endeavour by providing females with a nutritional offering that will “increase her reproductive output”. So what exactly does this mean? From an anthropocentric perspective, the nuptial gift makes a female more approachable and amenable to the male’s flirtatious efforts. And, from the male’s point of view, his gifts help to ensure that he will father more offspring and that he has contributed by providing the nourishment that the female needs to reproduce.

But what makes these gifts so appealing to the female? And can they really tell the difference? Well, in the neotropical species analysed in the article by Brum et al. the nuptial gift contains a prey item that the male has wrapped in a special silk that he only uses for this purpose. So what attracts the female to accept this gift? Is it the “pretty” wrapping or the contents of the package? As it turns out, these spider gals were not interested in any visual cues (aka the “pretty” package), but rather the chemical signals that are found within the silk layer of the gift. So it seems that “spidey love” is somewhat “silk deep.” Something to think about…

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