Male Schizocosa ocreata (Hentz) wolf spiders (Araneae, Lycosidae) have tufts of elongated, dark bristles on the patella and tibia of the forelegs, which are involved in visual signaling. Previous research has suggested that these tufts are used by females as a criterion in mate choice, raising the question of whether they might serve as indicators of male condition. We tested the hypothesis that tufts are condition-dependent indicator traits with a laboratory rearing study subjecting spiders to lifelong feeding regimens representing successful (high food) and unsuccessful (low food) foraging history, after which males were measured upon reaching adulthood. Mortality varied significantly with experimental treatment, and had a disproportionate impact on some egg sacs assigned to the low food treatment. Age at sexual maturity and several body size measures varied significantly with feeding history. Well-fed spiders survived better, matured earlier, were significantly larger, and were in relatively better condition (measured as a residual body condition index) than deprived spiders. Additionally, well-fed spiders had significantly larger relative tuft size (scaled for body size). These data suggest that male body size, condition and a conspicuous male signaling trait vary with feeding history, and thus have the potential to serve as “honest indicators” of male quality in mate choice.
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