When male wolf spiders get down and dirty, they pull out all the tricks. From tapping their toes, shaking a leg, and even serenading the females with sweet nothings, the arachnids know all the tricks in the book. The intimate details of this courting, and how it can even drive speciation, has been revealed by a group of researchers presenting their work at the Midwest Ecology and Evolution Conference.
Mating is a fairly risky affair for wolf spiders, to say the least. In some species, the receptive females will instantly devour the males around half of the time they meet. Thankfully for the Schizocosa ocreata spiders studied at the University of Cincinnati, the odds are much more in the males’ favor, with only around 10 percent being cannibalized.
Amazingly, the males can read the chemical signatures left in a female's silk, determine if she has chowed down on a male before. Depending on the outcome, he will then alter his behavior. “They will either avoid those females completely — hide and try to be invisible — or else court furiously to overwhelm her senses,” said George Uetz, who also discovered that some species of wolf spiders also croon to each other.
The little arachnids are common to American forests. University of Cincinnati
This courting takes the form of the males tapping their toes to a rhythm, and then dancing savagely. Raising his legs above his head, and bouncing his body and fangs off the ground, the researchers have aptly named them “ the twerking spider”, as the male tries to woo the female with his strong, firm vibrations. Those males who provide the best vibrations tend to have the best mating success.
It turns out that the specific bobbing, waving, and tapping used in the mating caper is unique to each species of wolf spider. These individual personalities are so different that even two species that look almost identical, live in the same habitat, and can mate with each, won’t as they don’t cut the same moves.
To test the arachnids even further, the researchers even built virtual spiders and tested them against real ones. They placed the physical spiders in front of an iPod playing a video of a virtual twerking spider while playing the vibrations through the floor to see how the real ones reacted.
But the ambitions of the team are much grander than this. They want to construct a three-dimensional screen and construct an entire virtual world for the arachnids. By attaching spiders to a rolling trackball using magnets, they hope to be able to trick the spiders into thinking that they are actually running around the virtual world and interacting with real mates.