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Spiders Never Forget Their First Love

Like females everywhere, spiders never forget their first romance. A study of spiders shows female wolf spiders will eat strange-looking males that try to mate with them, but spare familiar-looking males. Anthropologist Eileen Hebets says, "The female is using earlier experience that is going to affect her mate choice later. It is reasonable to expect that is a common thing in other animals" (like us).

Maggie Fox writes in abcnews.com that during their courtship, female wolf spiders can mate, run away or to eat their suitors. Sometimes one of them mates and then eats the guy afterwards.

Hebets painted the legs of male spiders either brown or black with nail polish, and then raised females with either brown- or black-marked males, but not both. When the females became sexually mature, she introduced them to a male of each color. These weren't the males they'd grown up with, just males with the same colored legs. She says, "They just look like somebody they might know."

She found the females were more likely to eat males painted with the "wrong" color instead of mating with them. She says, "Finding this behavior is really surprising. Social experience influences mate choice. It opens all kinds of possibilities. It could be this is a way of learning your species and making sure that when you get older, you are mating with the right species." She thinks this may be true for higher species, such as humans, as well.

The color of a male's legs had no effects on whether a female decided to eat him after mating, however. Hebets says, "The percentage of post-copulatory cannibalisms were certainly nothing out of the ordinary." It works this way with humans too?just because women are attracted to a familiar-looking male, doesn't mean the marriage will go smoothly.

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