The Wikipedia page on sexual cannibalism (e.g. female spiders eating their mates) currently has a statement that sounds wrong to me, but I don't feel expert enough to edit it out:

An additional benefit to cannibalization is the idea that a well-fed female is less likely to mate again.

I can't see why that would be the case. Why not continue to seek a second, better, mate? Unless perhaps being well-fed makes you a slower, larger target for predators, so hiding for a while is a better tactic.

The reference given is to

Female hunger can explain variation in cannibalistic behavior despite male sacrifice in redback spiders. 9, 33–42 (1988)

A bit of searching suggests the author meant to include Behaviour Ecology as the journal name. I've only read the abstract, but it does not seem to support the statement. It suggests a well-fed female is less likely to consume her mate, which seems intuitive.

Am I right that this Wikipedia sentence is incorrect? If I am wrong, is there an explanation for the effect that I am missing?


1 Answer 1


It does appear that Wikipedia has not provided the most appropriate reference for that statement, but it is repeated in the article it refers to and that you link to, both in the abstract:

Male sacrifice may be adaptive because cannibalized males increase their paternity relative to those that are not eaten

and in the body of the introduction:

Males that are cannibalized obtain paternity advantages compared to males that survive copulation

These statements do not necessarily contradict the other statement that a well-fed female is less likely to consume her mate, but there might be some nuance missing here in terms of mating versus mate consumption behaviors. However, the authors cite Andrade, 1996 (see below) for the second statement, and this seems like a more appropriate reference for the statement on Wikipedia:

Yes, a female spider who eats her mate is less likely to mate again. Andrade 1996 shows that males who are eaten during copulation mate longer, fertilize more eggs, and the females are more likely to not mate again after eating a mate.

Andrade, M. C. (1996). Sexual selection for male sacrifice in the Australian redback spider. Science, 271(5245), 70-72.

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    $\begingroup$ To be clear on my (prior) understanding: I accept that male sacrifice is adaptive - for example, because a well-fed mother is more likely to successfully produce offspring, but it isn't intuitive that the female wouldn't mate again. Your reference shows my intuition is wrong (which I celebrate. I learnt something!) $\endgroup$ Dec 11, 2018 at 5:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Oddthinking Indeed, Andrade concludes that the mother being well-fed has little to do with it, because the male is so small relative to the female's mass and eating the mate does not result in more or larger eggs. Instead, the article suggests that the duration of copulation is probably the key factor. Feeding on the mate is occurring while copulation is still in-progress, so effectively she is distracted by the feeding into allowing longer copulation. It isn't clear to me what prevents future matings, but in some ways it is irrelevant because fertilization already occurred for many eggs. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Dec 11, 2018 at 16:50

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