Whenever the "widow" spider is mentioned, people tend to sympathize with the hapless male -- best known for its tendency to end up as a post-coital snack.
Well, pity them no more.
Widow spider males have developed a rather gruesome method of saving their own skins, scientists revealed on Wednesday.
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To avoid becoming the lunch of adult females, some males have taken to inseminating juveniles which have no external genitalia yet -- penetrating right through their exoskeletons to deposit sperm.
The females retain the sperm and produce offspring later, when they have matured.
Unlike mating with adults, this option "rarely ends in cannibalism" of the males, the research team wrote in the Royal Society Journal Biology Letters.
"This means that many males actually have the chance to mate more than once," study co-author Maydianne Andrade of the University of Toronto Scarborough told AFP -- boosting their chances of reproductive success.
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Andrade and a team were conducting unrelated research on two species in the "Latrodectus" or widow spider genus, when they observed the behavior.
In both the Australian redback spider (L. hasselti), and the brown widow (L. geometricus), there is high competition among males for mating rights with females, which are several times larger than them.
Many males get to copulate only once in their life before being eaten -- sometimes even during the encounter.
Females, on the other hand, may mate more than once -- thus reducing their original male partners' chances of fatherhood.
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