Nephilid spider eunuch phenomenon induced by female or rival male aggressiveness

Matjaž Kuntner, Ingi Agnarsson, Matjaž Gregorič
2009 The journal of arachnology  
Plugging of female genitals via male sexual mutilation is a common sexual repertoire in some nephilid spiders (Herennia, Nephila, Nephilengys), but the behavioral pathways leading to emasculation are poorly understood. Recent work suggests that copulating Herennia males damage their reproductive organs during copulation and then voluntarily, and stereotypically, remove their pedipalps to become eunuchs. Presumably, such emasculation increases agility allowing the male to better fend off rival
more » ... les. However, through our observation of male antagonism in Nephilengys borbonica (Vinson 1863) in La Reunion (Indian Ocean), we discovered that genital severance involving the entire male palp is induced by a rival eunuch. Additionally, laboratory matings of the same species from Mayotte provide the first observations of female sexual cannibalism in this species, one such forceful copulation termination leading to emasculation of the entire palp. These novel behaviors suggest that mate plugging and the eunuch phenomenon are more plastic repertoires than hitherto thought, and thus our observations add to possible pathways leading to them. Based on our examination of 791 samples of Nephilengys spp. from museum collections and of a freshly collected representative sample of N. borbonica, we conclude that i) palpal severance is common (50% of males from the wild were eunuchs lacking both palps), but ii) the females (or perhaps subsequent males) must possess a mechanism for removing severed palps from the epigyna (none had a whole palpal bulb), leaving behind only partial, embolic plugs, and iii) the disparity between male palpal damage (50%) and visible mating plugs in females (21%) merits further research as the relative numbers of severed males and plugged females can offer insight into which sex may have the upper hand in an evolutionary arms race.
doi:10.1636/st08-67.1 fatcat:bgo3zfpi3jbkpaaqmbakzd26xe