Do Male Spiders Fake Romance In The Hope Of Having Sex?

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Gift-giving is common in the animal kingdom. The Paratrechalea ornate spider is one such species of insects where the males are known to present nuptial gifts to a potential mate during courtship. Usually, the male spiders give their potential mates something useful, like prey (a dead fly), as a gift. However, researchers have noted that the male spiders sometimes give fake gifts (the shell of a dead fly) instead of something nutritionally valuable. 

The way to a female spider’s heart is through the male’s wallet.

The males of some spider species are known to present immaculately wrapped and energetically expensive gifts to their potential mate in the hope of impressing her. They carry the gift over their head and run around in the field searching for any female willing to accept this token of love. Although seemingly romantic in nature, this gesture is a mere attempt at getting the female to roll in the hay with them.

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Humans Love Gifts… And So Do Animals!

Animals are as fond of giving and receiving gifts as we are. Mammals, birds and insects have all been known to give gifts of various kinds to potential mates, friends or even strangers. From the spit balls crafted by male scorpion-flies to the deadly cyanide presents of a six-spot burnet moth, the nature of these gifts can range from the cute to the gruesome to the downright deadly. Some animals even go to the extent of donating body parts for their mate to enjoy as a snack. And all of this is just to say, “I like you” or “Thank you”.

These gifts, when given with the purpose of expressing gratitude or affection, are usually called non-nuptial gifts. Other gifts given as courtship presents to woo or entice a potential mate fall under the category of nuptial gifts.

Cover for greeting cards happy new year
Many insects, including the males of a few spider species, present nuptial gifts to woo potential mates. (Photo Credit : Natalya Ermakova/Shutterstock)

Male Spiders Give Nuptial Gifts To Woo Females

The Paratrechalea ornate spider is one such species of insects where the males are known to present nuptial gifts to a potential mate during courtship. The gift is usually an edible bit of prey, a housefly or another dead spider, upon which the female can feed.

The male catches the prey and wraps it up in silk before presenting it to the female. If the female accepts the invitation, she grabs the gift and starts to feed. The male considers this as an opportunity to fool around with the female and enters her through a special leg called the pedipalp, thereby commencing mating.

i brought you a gift meme
Male spiders give edible prey to females to entice them and improve their chances of mating (Photo Credit : Tanya Kalian/Shutterstock)

The process of looking for a gift and then finding a female who will approve happens to be very energetically expensive for the males.

So, why bother going through this painful process in the first place?

Also Read: Why Do Some Animals Snack On Their Mates After Sex?

Why Do Male Spiders Bother Giving Gifts At All?

Research suggests that female spiders use courtship as a foraging opportunity. The nutritional contents of the gifts help in sustaining the females through the pregnancy and also ensure good health for the offspring.

According to the theory of sexual selection, giving gifts increases the male’s chances of mating amongst heavy competition. The males therefore try every dirty trick in the book to make the most of this opportunity when it finally arrives.

Some male arachnids continue to clasp the gift between their legs even after mating starts, refusing to give it up and running away with it as soon as the process is over. They either end up devouring the contents of the gift themselves (if the energetic mating session was hearty enough) or choose to use the same gift on another female in the hope of mating again.

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Female spiders often end up eating the male once mating ends (Photo Credit : Lukas Jonaitis/Shutterstock)

Female spiders are known to abruptly cut the mating short as soon as they are finished unwrapping and eating the gift. Sometimes, by the end of the copulation, what initially seemed like a desirable candidate for making babies now looks like a tasty meal. The females therefore proceed to cannibalize their mate after he has served his purpose.

Scientists speculate that presenting prey as a gift to the females also decreases the chances of sexual cannibalism and acts as a protective mechanism for males.

The males therefore are left with no choice but to find a gift. They, however, just like human men, are terrible at selecting them.

Men Make Terrible Gift-givers, And So Do Male Spiders!

While your man is scratching his head over whether to give you a vacuum cleaner this Christmas or rechargeable batteries, a male spider sitting in some corner of the room might be busy wrapping the inedible exoskeleton of a half-eaten housefly for his potential lover.

Though your partner may genuinely be oblivious to the appalling nature of his gift, the spider might actually be quite well aware of his. However, he couldn’t care less. Paratrechalea ornate males often choose petty gifts for their potential mates that would be of absolutely no use to them. In fact, 70 percent of the gifts presented by these spiders are worthless.

Caption : A male spider making an empty silk wrapping caught on camera.

What is even more surprising is the fact that, even when presented with a choice, males choose to pick gifts that are useless. In a recent study where the researchers provided the males with an opportunity of choosing between a nutritious (e.g., house fly) and a worthless gift (beetle larva), the males often chose to wrap the worthless larva.

This behavior left scientists overly amused. Why were the males being so sneaky?

Also Read: What Do Spiders Eat?

Significance Of Worthless Gifts

It turns out, evolutionarily, worthless gifts can present certain advantages to the males.

According to a theory, empty gifts evolved as a form of deception where the male can get his way without putting effort into looking for prey, and roaming around in the field carrying the gift on his head (like a desperate lover). They can start producing the silk right beside a female after spotting her and start mating as soon as possible.

expectation vs reality
Paratrechalea ornate males are known to present worthless gifts to females in the hope of having sex. (Photo Credit : Shutterstock)

The females expect the spider of their dreams to be thoughtful and efficient, and use the gift to judge if he is a capable hunter. Wrapping worthless gifts, therefore, might have evolved in response to a low availability of food, where it improved the male’s chances of mating when he himself did not have enough to eat. And indeed, in Pisaura mirabilis, another spider species, the males carrying worthless gifts usually look malnourished and under-fed.

But worthless or not, the gifts always come with pretty wrapping paper!

Beautifully Wrapped Gifts Improve Males’ Chances Of Having Sex

The males up their wrapping game to make up for the worthlessness of the gift. If anyone knows the true power of presentation, it is the Paratrechalea ornate males. The more useless the gift, the more elaborately packed it is. What makes these males obsess so much over the presentation of the gift?

Just like many others on this planet, the love language of the females of some spider species is gifts. The males take advantage of this fact and present them with beautifully wrapped silk balls containing useless stuff or sometimes nothing at all. Even so, who can resist a perfect wrap job? (Hint: Definitely not female spiders). It turns out that the bigger and prettier the gift is, the better the chances are of it getting accepted.

Worthless or not, gifts from Paratrechalea ornate males are immaculately wrapped and meant to impress! (Photo Credit : Apurv Jadhav/Shutterstock)

Also, since the females are known to end the copulation as soon as they’re done eating their gift, the males try and add as much silk as they can to the wrapping. The longer the female takes to un-wrap the gift, the longer they can mate with her.

Researchers also assume that the chemicals of the silk wrapping can help entice females. A study showed that the gifts in which the wrapping silk was washed with certain solvents were accepted much less frequently in comparison to those covered with un-washed silk. Therefore, the more wrapping, the better your chances of luring females into mating beyond the level of their actual interest.


It’s clear that “gifting” in spiders isn’t a gesture of true love, but a mere act of deceit. The males usually succeed in their attempt to flatter and eventually mate with a female. However, females may have the final say in the process. They may store sperm from multiple males, but only use the sperm from those who brought the best gifts.

Therefore, in the battle of spider love, females usually emerge victorious!

References (click to expand)
  1. Do Animals Give Gifts? Many Do - Willy's Wilderness.
  2. 8 Animals That Show Their Love in Painful Ways | Live Science. Live Science
  3. Albo, M. J., Toft, S., & Bilde, T. (2013). Sexual Selection, Ecology, and Evolution of Nuptial Gifts in Spiders. Sexual Selection. Elsevier.
  4. Stalhandske, P. (2001, November 1). Nuptial gift in the spider Pisaura mirabilis maintained by sexual selection. Behavioral Ecology. Oxford University Press (OUP).
  5. Albo, M. J., & Costa, F. G. (2010, May). Nuptial gift-giving behaviour and male mating effort in the Neotropical spider Paratrechalea ornata (Trechaleidae). Animal Behaviour. Elsevier BV.
  6. Pandulli-Alonso, I., Quaglia, A., & Albo, M. J. (2017, May 15). Females of a gift-giving spider do not trade sex for food gifts: a consequence of male deception?. BMC Evolutionary Biology. Springer Science and Business Media LLC.
  7. Pavón-Peláez, C., Franco-Trecu, V., Pandulli-Alonso, I., Jones, T. M., & Albo, M. J. (2022, January 5). Beyond the prey: male spiders highly invest in silk when producing worthless gifts. PeerJ. PeerJ.
  8. Pavón-Peláez, C., Franco-Trecu, V., Pandulli-Alonso, I., Jones, T. M., & Albo, M. J. (2022, January 5). Beyond the prey: male spiders highly invest in silk when producing worthless gifts. PeerJ. PeerJ.
  9. Male Spiders Give Worthless Gifts to Entice Females. Scientific American
About the Author

Aishwarya is a research scholar pursuing a PhD in the field of molecular neuroscience from the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. She is an avid reader and a bird lover. She loves to sing and finds solace in music. She turns to writing to escape the monotony in life. She is a tad bit philosophical and is ever curious to understand where and how spirituality meets science.

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