Frontlines | Wham, Bam, Now I'll Die, Ma'am

Courtesy of Matthias Foellmer

Sex does not come easy for male spiders. In many species, the female attacks and eats its mate, and sometimes, the male offers itself as a morsel for the female to feast on after mating. But the male Argiope aurantia takes this to the extreme by spontaneously dying during copulation.1 It's not fatal attraction, but a smart way to protect paternal investment, says Daphne Fairbairn, University of California, Riverside.

The orb-weaving male has two sperm-containing pedipalps that it inserts into the female. "Upon insertion of the second palp, they invariably undergo a kind of programmed organismic death," explains Fairbairn. The heart rate slows, and 15 minutes later the male is dead. But even while dying, the arduous lover, with the palp still inside the female, fends off other suitors by blocking the female's sex organs with its...

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