The Dangers of Courtship For The Male Garden Spider Araneus diadematus

x7 images. Double click to enlarge.

It’s amazing what you see sometimes as you travel through your own backyard. I spied this female Araneus diadematus some days ago. She is really quite a big individual and had made a large orbweb stretched between a plant pot and some shrubbery. Here she has a good meal ready to go in the shape of a Hawthorn Shieldbug .. in fact, to my crazy mind, she looks like a band member ready to knock out a tune on it.

The next day, on the late afternoon, I spotted the handsome male Araneus diadematus apparenty repairing and tidying her web for her at a distance. But he had also spun a strong silken quick release safety line … more on that later.

In the above image we can see how large the female is compared to the male. She looks rather intimidating … and she is. I watched as the male Araneus diadematus tentatively approached her along the web, getting a little closer, the female closing the gap … and the male backing off from time to time keeping a little distance between them. He was testing the waters, and so he should. Female Araneus diadematus practices sexual cannibalism before and after insemination. One thing in his favour is the large food package she already has nicely wrapped up … but he certainly didn’t want to be seconds.

Eventually they closed the gap but he was still very sheepish and kept darting back … and on a couple of occasions when he must have read the situation as potentially dangerous rather than amorous he used his pre-made quick release safety line to swing back a good distance out of harms way. They must have been playing this cat and mouse courtship game for a couple of hours … and I don’t know what the outcome was in the end for the male. The next day had seen overnight rain which had damaged some of the web, but the female was found sheltering under a leaf. The male was nowhere to be seen. He was either inside her as last nights late supper … or he had gone off in search of another mate with an extra swagger to his gait.

Sexual cannibalism in spiders is a long-standing evolutionary paradox because it persists despite extreme costs for the victim, usually the male. Several adaptive and nonadaptive hypotheses have been proposed to explain this phenomenon, but empirical studies are still scarce and results are inconclusive.

47 thoughts on “The Dangers of Courtship For The Male Garden Spider Araneus diadematus

  1. These are amazing shots, Pete. It is rare for me to see a male spider and your images really highlight the difference in size between the genders, especially when they were so close together. I really enjoyed your narrative description of what you observed. Wow!

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    1. Many thanks, Mike! I have seen the male and the female but always in separation, so it was a real treat to see them together which gave a better perspective on their comparative sizes. So to observe their courtship was quite somethings special … I just wished I knew how to use the movie mode on my cam … which I have never used … to film the courtship.

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      1. Learning to take videos with my camera is on the list of things that I want to do. I rarely use my cell phone to take photos and have never taken a video with it. It still feels really strange to try to take photos using the back screen of a phone and the process is somewhat similar for taking videos with a camera, I think.

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      2. I guess folk would call me old fashioned but I am not one for cell phones, and I am more comfortable looking through a camera through the view finder rather than through the LED screen. I find I can better stabilise the camera with it resting against my eye socket.

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      3. It sounds like you and I think a lot alike, Pete. Occasionally I will be out in public and someone will hand me their cell phone and ask me to take picture of them. I used to protest and say I did not know how to use one, but gradually have gotten comfortable enough that I can take those kinds of photos. For me, a cell phone can be useful for photos of landscapes and buildings and I used one to supplement a DSLR when I visited Paris a couple of years ago. However, I still have trouble trying to hold a cell phone steady when it is at arms length.

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  2. Fantastic to witness such a drama at home. Killing his lover, when he has done his part, is truly a paradox. An unusual phenomenon in the animal world, but of course there is a resemblance to some salmon species that die after they fertilize the eggs. Great pictures as usual.

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  3. This is an unusual and very interesting narrative and series of photographs – how wonderful that you have been able to record something of their relationship.

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  4. A terrific series of images Peter and a really interesting account. I photographed a similar situation a few days ago between a pair of Marbled Orbwebs [Araneus marmoreus] and was trying to work out how the male managed to escape so quickly. Now I know.

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  5. I am quite happy to not be a spider or mantid. Nice closeup at the end. At first I thought it might be the male saying goodbye to the world. I saw spider mating for the first time a few weeks ago and think that male met the same fate shul this male have been a meal. Nice little bit of rhyming there at the end of the fourth paragraph too..

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    1. Thank you, Steve! Me, too! Glad you noticed the rhyme πŸ™‚ I wonder if this is all about the survival of the fittest whilst mating … because if you ain’t smart or quick enough you just aren’t good enough to make babies …. although that doesn’t quite answer the question if you get eaten afterwards rather than beforehand.

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  6. Fabulous captures and narrative, Pete! Amazing close-up details and very interesting about the male’s safety line, that might explain some scenes I have witnessed. You did make me chuckle about the Sheildbug being an instrument πŸ˜„.

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      1. Many thanks for your encouragement, Dwight. Nature has always been a passion for me and photography has enabled me to capture some of its extraordinary wonders, and I have never thought too much about taking it in the directions you suggest. Although I have had 3 images published in books, a book of my own (I was once a budding author, lol) would be a dream come true πŸ™‚

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  7. Wow! The Araneus diadematus looks very different the usual Araneus mitificus that I sometimes get around my garden. When I read your post, I thought the male almost looked a Neoscona sp. that I see. Fantastic captures and documentation!

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