Some female spiders have a widow-making reputation of eating their mates after copulation. But some male orb weaver spiders have worked out 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’ energetic escapes in the journal Current Biology on Monday.
Male Philoponella prominens orb weaver spiders are the kangaroos of the arachnid world.
“Using a mechanism that hadn’t been described before, the male spiders use a joint in their first pair of legs to immediately undertake a split-second catapult action, flinging themselves away from their partners at impressive speeds clocked at up to 88 centimeters per second (cm/s),” Cell Press, the publisher of Current Biology, said in a news release Monday.
The researchers captured video of the catapulting action that shows the males’ quick getaway method.
Males that didn’t immediately catapult away after sex were caught and eaten “in an act of sexual cannibalism.” The discovery came about as the team studied sexual selection in the orb weavers, which live in large communities together. 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 prevented 30 males from catapulting away. Those males also became dinner.
“Females may use this behavior to judge the quality of a male during mating,” Zhang said. “If a male could not perform catapulting, then kill it, and if a male could perform it multiple times, then accept its sperm.”
It may be a spider-eat-spider world out there, but at least some of the arachnids have figured out the secret to survival. It requires strong legs and good timing, which is life advice that could apply to a lot of us.