Males make poor meals: a comparison of nutrient extraction during sexual cannibalism and predation
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Cannibalism is hypothesized to have evolved as a way to obtain a high-quality meal. We examined the extraction of lipid and protein by female wolf spiders, Hogna helluo, during sexual cannibalism of males and predation of crickets. Most food-limited females did not cannibalize males but immediately consumed a size-matched cricket. When consuming male H. helluo and crickets, female H. helluo only consumed 51% of the male body while they consumed 72% of the cricket body. While males had higher protein content in their bodies than crickets and other insects, female H. helluo ingested similar amounts of protein from male H. helluo and crickets. Female H. helluo extracted 47% of the protein present in male H. helluo and 67% of the protein present in crickets. Females were able to extract nearly all of the lipid present in male H. helluo and crickets. However, crickets and other insects had almost 4 times higher lipid content than male H. helluo. The ratio of lipid to protein consumed from crickets appeared more similar to the nutritional requirements of egg production than that of males. Taken together, female hesitancy to engage in cannibalism, low extraction of nutrients from males and a low ratio of lipid to protein in the food extracted from males suggest that males may be poor-quality prey items compared to common insects such as crickets.