, 138:75 | Cite as

Securing paternity in spiders? A review on occurrence and effects of mating plugs and male genital mutilation

  • Gabriele UhlEmail author
  • Stefan H. Nessler
  • Jutta M. Schneider


Low female mating frequencies often appear to be cases of direct male induction that can oppose female interests. Mating plugs are most obvious means leading to low degrees of multiple mating in females. In spiders, mating plugs are formed by a variety of amorphous materials, by the breakage of the male sperm transferring organ, or by the whole male that functions as a mating barrier. Our compilation of the available information on the presence of the various types of mating plugs suggests that plugs predominantly occur in entelegyne spiders. In this group, plugs do not interfere with oviposition since separate openings for insemination and oviposition are present. In contrast, mating plugs seem to be rare in haplogyne spiders that do not possess separate openings. The available experimental studies on the function of the different types of plugs suggest that plugs can be considered as male adaptations to avoid sperm competition. However, females in some cases were shown to have evolved means to prevent or control male manipulation or may selectively favour plug production in specific males, an aspect which has largely been neglected. In order to understand plug evolution and function we need to explore the morphological, behavioural and biochemical aspects involved and extend our approach to interactions between the sexes.


Copulatory plugs Sexual selection Sexual conflict Araneae Mate guarding 



We thank many colleagues for alerting us to relevant publications or contributing to the unpublished information compiled in Table 1: Gerd Alberti, Tharina Bird, Angelo Bolzern, Robert Bosmans, Antonio Brescovit, Charles Christensen, David Court, Paula Cushing, Christa Deeleman, Ansie Dippenaar, Jason Dunlop, Janet Edmunds, Matthias Foellmer, Volker Framenau, Cristian Grismado, Ambros Haenggi, Jaomir Hajer, Mariella Herberstein, Gustavo Hormiga, Bernhard Huber, Robert Jackson, Peter Jäger, Rudy Jocqué, Barbara Knoflach, Martin Kreuels, Torbjörn Kronestedt, Matjaz Kuntner, Katrin Kunz, Pekka Lehtinen, Herbert Levi, Leon Lotz, Jean-Pierre Maelfait, Yuri Marusik, Yamile Molina, Christoph Muster, Norman Platnick, Jerzy Prószynski, Martín G. Ramírez, Martín J. Ramírez, Robert Raven, Linda Rayor, Adalberto Santos, Nikolaj Scharff, Martin Schmidt, Csaba Scinetar, Michal Segoli, Diana Silva-Davila, Helen Smith, Peter van Helsdingen, and Jörg Wunderlich. Peter Michalik kindly designed Fig. 1. This work was supported by the German Research Council (DFG Uh/87-5-1) and a Maria von Linden fellowship of the University of Bonn to GU which is gratefully acknowledged. This paper is dedicated to Bill Eberhard.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gabriele Uhl
    • 1
    Email author
  • Stefan H. Nessler
    • 2
  • Jutta M. Schneider
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of General and Systematic Zoology, Zoological Institute and MuseumUniversity of GreifswaldGreifswaldGermany
  2. 2.Biozentrum Grindel, Department of EthologyUniversity of HamburgHamburgGermany

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