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Male spiders play dead for sex: study

tech-reviews Updated: Feb 27, 2008 21:36 IST

AFP
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Barroom advice on how to score with the ladies would probably never include the strategy that works best for at least one species of male spider: playing dead.

Not all male nursery web spiders looking for a little arachnid sex adopt this technique, but those that do more than double their chances of hitting the jackpot, according to new study in Behavioral Ecology, reported on Wednesday in the British magazine New Scientist.

In experiments designed by Trine Bilde of the University of Aaarhus in Denmark, researchers set up date-and-mate opportunities for Pisaura mirabilis, a species native to Europe.

All the males sought to attract partners by offering a gift of food, held in the mouth.

But the ones that lay flat and motionless -- even if meant getting dragged about by a female that had latched onto the victuals -- wound up in a much better position, as it were, to engage in sexual activity.

The hapless males that tried the direct approach wound up keeping the free meal but not getting what they were really after.

Males that played dead were also allowed to copulate longer than males that did not, ensuring more eggs could fertilised, the researchers reported.

Playing dead is a well-known defence mechanism in nature, but this is apparently the first time such behaviour has been observed as a strategy for obtaining sexual favours.