Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 58, Issue 4, pp 390–396 | Cite as

Precopulatory sexual cannibalism in fishing spiders (Dolomedes triton): a role for behavioral syndromes

  • J. Chadwick Johnson
  • Andrew Sih
Original Article


Precopulatory sexual cannibalism (predation of a potential mate prior to copulation) offers an extreme example of intersexual conflict, a current focus in behavioral ecology. The ‘aggressive-spillover’ hypothesis, posits that precopulatory sexual cannibalism may be a nonadaptive by-product of a general syndrome of voracity (aggression towards prey) that is expressed in multiple behavioral contexts. In this view, selection favoring high levels of voracity throughout ontogeny spills over to cause sexual cannibalism in adult females even when it is not necessarily beneficial. Using the North American fishing spider, Dolomedes triton, we present the first in depth test of this hypothesis. We found support for three aspects of the spillover hypothesis. First, voracity towards hetero-specific prey results in high feeding rates, large adult size, and increased fecundity. Second, juvenile and adult voracity are positively correlated (i.e., voracity is a consistent trait over ontogeny). Third, voracity towards hetero-specific prey is indeed positively correlated with precopulatory sexual cannibalism. Assays of antipredator behavior further revealed positive correlations between boldness towards predators, voracity and precopulatory sexual cannibalism. Overall, our results support the notion that precopulatory sexual cannibalism in D. triton is part of a behavioral syndrome spanning at least three major contexts: foraging, predator avoidance, and mating.


Aggressive-spillover hypothesis Sexual cannibalism Fishing spiders 



We thank Erich Marks and Gina Hupton for assistance with data collection and Patrick Crumrine for help in collecting the animals. Alison Bell commented on multiple versions of the manuscript. Financial assistance was provided by NSF-DDIG #0206237 to JCJ and NSF-IBN 0078033 and NSF-IBN 0222063 to AS. The experiment presented herein complies with all laws of the United States of America.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.T.H. Morgan School of Biological SciencesUniversity of KentuckyLexingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Environmental Science & PolicyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  3. 3.Present address: Division of Life SciencesUniversity of Toronto @ ScarboroughTorontoCanada

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