Spiders are well known for using chemical, vibratory, tactile, and visual signals within mating contexts. All spiders produce silk, and even in non-web building spiders, silk is intimately tied to courtship and mating. Silk produced by females provides a transmission channel for male vibratory courtship signals, while webs and draglines provide a substrate for female sex pheromones. Observations of male spiders producing silk during sexual interactions are also common across phylogenetically widespread taxa. However, the function of male-produced silk in mating has received very little study. Exploring the function of male silk use during mating will provide a deeper understanding of the complex mating systems of spiders and allow tests of hypotheses about the evolution of male and female traits under sexual selection and/or conflict. In this review, we outline functional hypotheses that may explain each of the following three main categories of silk deposition males exhibit during courtship and mating: (1) silk deposition on females' webs or other silk structures, (2) silk deposition on females (‘bridal veils') and (3) silk associated with nuptial gifts. We then summarize the current knowledge of silk use by male spiders within these three categories and the types of mechanisms that may lead to functional effects, and discuss areas where future work can be targeted.
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Vol. 46 • No. 2