Spider mating behaviour is varied and often surprising. In the past few decades, there has been a shift from descriptive natural history approaches to a more manipulative, theory-based dissection of the behavioural and evolutionary ecology of mating. This approach has yielded evidence in support of important underlying themes of sexual selection. In this chapter, we summarise patterns of mating behaviour in spiders, and the conditions that underlie variation in this behaviour, with an emphasis on how sexual selection theory relates to observed patterns. We end by suggesting spiders may prove particularly tractable models for testing hypotheses regarding mechanisms of sexual selection, sex-specific mating tactics, and reciprocal links between these, and ecology, demography and life history.
There are a number of traits common to the true spiders (Order Araneae) that lend unusual dimensions to their mating behaviour (e.g. Uhl and Elias, Chapter 5). Almost all spiders are predacious (for an exception see Meehan et al., 2009), and have sensory systems exquisitely tuned to vibrational and pheromonal signals. Males transfer sperm via specialised intromittent organs (males' palps), not directly connected to the gonads, into females' sperm storage organs of variable number (spermathecae), often via independent insemination tubules (Foelix, 1996). In addition, although the mating season holds risks similar to those for all sexual species (e.g. mate rejection, competitive injury, predation), male spiders (and rarely, females; Aisenberg et al., 2009, Cross et al. 2007b, Jackson and Pollard, 1990, Schutz and Taborsky, 2005) also face the additional risk of mortality through their predacious potential mate.