Gift Giving among the Spiders

by on November 23, 2011 at 9:21 am in Economics, Science | Permalink

Male nursery-web spider presents gift to female

Male nursery web spiders often woo potential lady-friends with gifts wrapped in silk. Mating may ensue, during which a female unspools the present, expecting to find a tasty treat. But the males can be unscrupulous. Some offerings contain inedible plant seeds or empty insect exoskeletons.

…The empty-handed males were mostly unsuccessful at mating. Whereas those with a gift could get the girl. But if the gift was worthless, the females quickly realized the deceit and pushed the copulating males off.

The Scientific American blog post (based on this paper) makes it sound as if the males are the only ones using deception and dirty tricks. But why do the males silk wrap their gifts? Why not just present the females with food?

Females presented with food will often grab the food and run, leaving the males doubly hungry. A wrapped package is harder to steal (the males have a better grip on the silk) and as the females slowly unwrap their potentially delicious presents the males copulate. Thus, the rituals of silken wrapped gifts conceal intricate conflicts over resources and sex. Only among spiders, of course.

1 Greg Ransom November 23, 2011 at 10:06 am

A Darwinian would explain things a bit differently ….

2 Ken B November 23, 2011 at 10:14 am

Huh? Alex’s comment is completely consistent with natural selection and sociobiology is all about just such situations.

3 Miley Cyrax November 23, 2011 at 10:23 am

Clearly this is the result of a patriarchal and misogynistic spider culture that oppresses females and values them only as sexual objects, and not instinctual reproductive strategies that manifest themselves in courtship rituals!


4 Careless November 23, 2011 at 10:35 am

you forgot “rape culture”

5 Roy November 23, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Actually among arthropods, and especially among spiders the position of the female is so greatly favored, with the females usually being larger, stronger, and longer lived, that the sexual politics of this are completely reversed. This is actually true of most of most protostomes, so if you want to think about this correctly, reverse the sexes.

As an aside, ever notice how humans in general compare powerful women to insects and spiders? Spider Queens, Queen Bees, etc…

6 Jacob November 23, 2011 at 5:15 pm


7 Pawel D November 26, 2011 at 5:40 am


8 CMN2468 December 3, 2011 at 6:32 am

Sorry, that wasn’t meant for you.

9 CMN2468 December 3, 2011 at 6:21 am

Female to female, I think that you are just angry that you can’t find a “mate” yourself.

10 Turkey Vulture November 23, 2011 at 10:25 am

Pretty much describes every Christmas since marriage. Hand wife a wrapped present, begin copulation, she finds out it’s filled with insect exoskeletons, copulation ends. Good times.

11 jimi November 23, 2011 at 11:53 am


12 cg November 23, 2011 at 10:33 am

underlying the importance of multi-tasking for female spiders…

13 JWatts November 23, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Multi-tasking, what multi-tasking? Sounds to me she was busy unwrapping a present.

14 Daniel Klein November 23, 2011 at 10:44 am

All the ribbons a throwback to the holding string?

15 FYI November 23, 2011 at 11:29 am

Talking about giving and weird behaviors, it looks like the unemployment issue is not really an issue at all in some places – quite the opposite. Maybe this one should go to Tyler’s there is no great stagnation:

16 Rahul November 23, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Reminds me of one of the heuristics Richard Feynman had about women in bars…..

“Never pay for anything unless they have agreed to go to bed with you and you know they aren’t lying.”

17 Vagabundus November 23, 2011 at 7:18 pm

Reminds me of congress and the voter.

18 custom November 23, 2011 at 8:56 pm

This may be the first time I have commented below and I must say you give genuine, and top quality data for bloggers! Good position.

19 Eat the Babies! November 24, 2011 at 11:58 am

This is an interesting story, tho I don’t want to think about spiders having sex.

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