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Munching Mates

January 16, 2006

Many fathers in the animal kingdom are deadbeat dads by human standards. But redback spider dads are just plain dead.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
Eating your mate for a meal. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The male redback spider makes the ultimate sacrifice for his children—he lets his mate eat him. University of Toronto behavioral ecologist Maydianne Andrade studies this unusual strategy. She has found that more than 80 percent of wild males die of starvation or predation during their search for a female—without ever finding even one.

MAYDIANNE ANDRADE (University of Toronto):
So males essentially are selected to put all their eggs in one basket, if you will, because the chances of getting a second mating are small.

HIRSHON:
Males who let females eat them get to mate longer, giving them the opportunity to fertilize more eggs and father more offspring. It may be hard to believe, but Andrade says the spiders who survive to get eaten by their mates are the lucky ones.

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.