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Male Black Widows Court With Distinctive Shakes to Avoid Danger

Update Date: Jan 17, 2014 06:03 PM EST
black widow spider
Male black widow spiders court by shaking their abdomens at carefully pitched vibrations to prevent females from attacking them. (Photo : tkksummers/Flickr)

Male black widow spiders court by shaking their abdomens at carefully pitched vibrations to prevent females from attacking them.

If courting males aren't careful, female black widows may confuse the their advances as vibrations of prey.

Researchers made the discovery after recording the vibrations made by male black widow spiders (Latrodectus hesperus), hobo spiders (Tegenaria agrestis) and prey insects.

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"The web functions as an extension of the spider's exquisitely tuned sensory system, allowing her to very quickly detect and respond to prey coming into contact with her silk," researcher Catherine Scott of Simon Fraser University said in a news release.

"This presents prospective mates with a real challenge when they first arrive at a female's web: they need to signal their presence and desirability, without triggering the female's predatory response," Scott added.

The study found that the courtship vibrations of both spider species differed from those of prey. However, the very low-amplitude vibratory signals produced when male black window shakes their abdomens were very different.

"These 'whispers' may help to avoid potential attacks from the females they are wooing," Scott explained.

The findings are published in the journal Frontiers in Zoology.

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