Functional morphology of immature mating in a widow spider

Lenka Sentenská, Aileen Neumann, Yael Lubin, Gabriele Uhl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Mating generally occurs after individuals reach adulthood. In many arthropods including spiders, the adult stage is marked by a final moult after which the genitalia are fully developed and functional. In several widow spider species (genus Latrodectus), however, immature females may mate a few days before they moult to adulthood, i.e. in their late-subadult stage. While the “adult” mating typically results in cannibalism, males survive the “immature” mating. During both “immature” and “adult” matings, males leave parts of their paired copulatory organs within female genitalia, which may act as mating plugs. To study potential costs and benefits of the two mating tactics, we investigated female genital morphology of the brown widow spider, L. geometricus. Light microscopy, histology and micro-computed tomography of early-subadult, late-subadult and adult females were conducted to determine the overall pattern of genital maturation. We compared genitalia of mated late-subadult and adult females to reveal potential differences in the genitalic details that might indicate differential success in sperm transfer and different environments for sperm storage and sperm competition. Results: We found that the paired sperm storage organs (spermathecae) and copulatory ducts are developed already in late-subadult females and host sperm after immature mating. However, the thickness of the spermathecal cuticle and the staining of the secretions inside differ significantly between the late-subadult and adult females. In late-subadult females mating plugs were found with higher probability in both spermathecae compared to adult females. Conclusions: Sperm transfer in matings with late-subadult females follows the same route as in matings with adult females. The observed differences in the secretions inside the spermathecae of adult and late-subadult females likely reflect different storage conditions for the transferred sperm which may lead to a disadvantage under sperm competition if the subadult female later re-mates with another male. However, since males mating with late-subadult females typically transfer sperm to both spermathecae they might benefit from numerical sperm competition as well as from monopolizing access to the female sperm storage organs. The assessment of re-mating probability and relative paternity will clarify the costs and benefits of the two mating tactics in light of these findings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number19
JournalFrontiers in Zoology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2021


  • Alternative mating tactic
  • Araneae
  • Copulation
  • Histology
  • Immature mating
  • Mating plug
  • Spermathecae


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