Sexual cannibalism is common in spiders and can be advantageous for female fitness by increasing egg production. However, it is possible that, under low mate density, females will be at risk of consuming all of the males they encounter prior to copulation. Cannibalistic females may be able to mitigate the risk of virgin death if they reduce cannibalism rates in response to low mate availability. Here, we attempted to manipulate perceived mate density and observe whether it affected female aggression towards males in the fen raft spider (Dolomedes fimbriatus). We predicted that female attack rate would increase in response to an increasing number of male encounters. We also recorded male courtship effort. Despite previous literature finding that D. fimbriatus females were highly aggressive towards conspecific males, we found that females only attacked courting males in 14% of encounters. None of these attacks resulted in cannibalism. Moreover, attacks were not associated with how many males the female had previously been exposed to. Male courtship effort decreased in response to repeated exposure to females. Some of the virgin females laid and guarded unfertilized egg cases; this made them unattractive to males, potentially reducing their reproductive lifespan prematurely.
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Vol. 18 • No. 3