Acta Biotheoretica

, Volume 63, Issue 1, pp 71–81 | Cite as

Energetics, Scaling and Sexual Size Dimorphism of Spiders

  • B. Grossi
  • M. Canals


The extreme sexual size dimorphism in spiders has motivated studies for many years. In many species the male can be very small relative to the female. There are several hypotheses trying to explain this fact, most of them emphasizing the role of energy in determining spider size. The aim of this paper is to review the role of energy in sexual size dimorphism of spiders, even for those spiders that do not necessarily live in high foliage, using physical and allometric principles. Here we propose that the cost of transport or equivalently energy expenditure and the speed are traits under selection pressure in male spiders, favoring those of smaller size to reduce travel costs. The morphology of the spiders responds to these selective forces depending upon the lifestyle of the spiders. Climbing and bridging spiders must overcome the force of gravity. If bridging allows faster dispersal, small males would have a selective advantage by enjoying more mating opportunities. In wandering spiders with low population density and as a consequence few male–male interactions, high speed and low energy expenditure or cost of transport should be favored by natural selection. Pendulum mechanics show the advantages of long legs in spiders and their relationship with high speed, even in climbing and bridging spiders. Thus small size, compensated by long legs should be the expected morphology for a fast and mobile male spider.


Cost of transport Dimensional analysis Selective pressure Spiders 



We thank Lafayette Eaton for his useful comments on the manuscript. Funded by FONDECYT 1110058 grant to M.C.


  1. Aisenberg A, Viera C, Costa FG (2007) Daring females, devoted males, and reversed sexual size dimorphism in the sand-dwelling spider Allocosa brasiliensis (Araneae, Lycosidae). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 62:29–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alexander RMN (2003) Principles of animal locomotion. Princeton University Press, New JerseyGoogle Scholar
  3. Biewener AA (2003) Animal locomotion. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  4. Brandt Y, Andrade MCB (2007a) Testing the gravity hypothesis of sexual size dimorphism: are small males faster climbers? Funct Ecol 21:379–385CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brandt Y, Andrade MCB (2007b) What is the matter with the gravity hypothesis? Funct Ecol 21:1182–1183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chown SL, Marais E, Terblanche JS, Klok CJ, Lighton JRB, Blackburn TM (2007) Scaling of insect metabolic rate is inconsistent with the nutrient supply network model. Func Ecol 21:282–290CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Christenson TE (1989) Sperm deplection in the orb-weaving spider Nephila clavipes (Araneae, Araneidae). J Arachnol 17:115–118Google Scholar
  8. Christenson TE, Goist KC (1979) Cost and benefits of male–male competition in the orb-weaving spider, Nephila clavipes. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 5:87–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Corcobado G, Rodriguez-Girones MA, De Mas E, Moya-Laraño J (2010) Introducing the refined gravity hypothesis of extreme sexual dimorphism. BMC Evol Biol 10:236–250CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Elgar MA (1998) Sperm competition and sexual selection in spiders and other arachnids. In: Birkhead TR, Moller AP (eds) Sperm competition and sexual selection. Academic Press, New York, pp 307–339CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Elgar MA, Fahey BF (1996) Sexual cannibalism, competition, and size dimorphism in the orb-weaving spider Nephila plumipes Latreille (Araneae: Araneoidea). Behav Ecol 7:195–198CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Elgar MA, Schneider JM, Herberstein ME (2000) Female control of paternity in the sexually cannibalistic spider Argiope keyserlingi. Proc R Soc Lond B 267:2439–2443CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Foelix RF (1996) Biology of spiders. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  14. Foellmer MW, Fairbairn DJ (2005) Selection on male size, leg length and condition during mate search in a sexually highly dimorphic orb-weaving spider. Oecologia 142:653–662CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Foellmer MW, Moya-Larraño J (2007) Sexual size dimorphism in spiders: pattern and processes. In: Fairbairn DJ, Blanckenhorn WU, Székely T (eds) Sex, size and gender roles: evolutionary studies of sexual size dimorphism. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 71–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Garland T, Losos JB (1994) Ecological morphology of locomotor performance in squamate reptiles. In: Wainwright PC, Reilly SM (eds) Ecological morphology. Integrative organismal biology. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 240–302Google Scholar
  17. Ghiseling MT (1974) A radical solution to species problem. Syst Zool 23(4):536–544CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Grossi B, Canals M (2010) Comparison of the morphology of the limbs of juvenile and adult horses (Equus caballus) and their implications on the locomotor biomechanics. J Exp Zool A 313:292–300Google Scholar
  19. Gunnarson B, Jhonson J (1990) Protandry and moulting to maturity in the spider Pityohyphantes phrygianus. Oikos 59:205–212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Günther B, Morgado E (1996) Duality in physiological time: Euclidean and fractal. Biol Res 29:305–311Google Scholar
  21. Günther B, Morgado E (2003) Dimensional analysis revised. Biol Res 36:405–410Google Scholar
  22. Head G (1995) Selection on fecundity and variation in the degree of sexual size dimorphism among spider species (class Araneae). Evolution 49:776–781CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hecht T (1997) Physics, 2nd edn. Brooks/Cole, Pacific GroveGoogle Scholar
  24. Hormiga G, Eberhard WG, Coddington JA (1995) Web-construction behavior in Australian Phonognatha and the phylogeny of nephiline and tetragnathid spiders (Araneae: Tetragnathidae). Aust J Zool 43:313–364CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hormiga G, Scharff N, Coddington JA (2000) The phylogentic basis of sexual size dimorphism in orb-weaving spiders (Araneae: Orbiculariae). Syst Biol 49:435–462CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Jackson RR (1986) Cohabitation of males and juvenile females: a prevalent mating tactic of spiders. J Nat Hist 20:1193–1210CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kasumovic MM, Bruce MJ, Herberstein ME, Andrade MCB (2007) Risky mate search and mate preference in the golden orb-web spider (Nephila plumipes). Behav Ecol 18:189–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lambert R, Teissier G (1927) Théorie de la similitude biologique. Ann Physiol (Paris) 3:212–246Google Scholar
  29. LeGrand RS, Morse DH (2000) Factors driving extreme sexual size dimorphism of a sit and wait predator under low density. Biol J Linn Soc 71:643–664CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lighton JRB, Brownell PH, Joos B, Turner RJ (2001) Low metabolic rate in scorpions: implications for population biomass and cannibalism. J Exp Biol 204:607–613Google Scholar
  31. McMahon TA (1983) On size and life. Scientific American Library, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  32. Medler S (2002) Comparative trends in shortening velocity and force production in skeletal muscles. Am J Physiol Reg Int Comp Physiol 283:R368–R378Google Scholar
  33. Moya-Laraño J, Halaj J, Wise DH (2002) Climbing to reach females: Romeo should be small. Evolution 56:420–425CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Moya-Laraño J, Vinkovic D, De Mas E, Corcobado G, Moreno E (2008) Morphological evolution of spiders predicted by pendulum mechanics. PLoS One 3(3):e1841. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0001841 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Moya-Laraño J, Vinkovic D, Allard CM, Foellmer MW (2009) Optimal climbing speed explains the evolution of extreme sexual size dimorphism in spiders. J Evol Biol 22:954–963CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Niven JE, Schaarlemann PW (2005) Do insect metabolic rates at rest and during flight scale with body mass? Biol Lett 1:346–349CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Prenter J, Perez-Staples D, Taylor PW (2010a) Functional relations between locomotor performance traits in spider and implications for evolutionary hypotheses. BMC Res Notes 3:306–311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Prenter J, Perez-Staples D, Taylor PW (2010b) The effects of morphology and substrate diameter on climbing and locomotor performance in male spiders. Funct Ecol 24:400–408CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Ramos M, Irschick DJ, Christenson TE (2004) Overcoming an evolutionary conflict: removal of a reproductive organ greatly increases locomotor performance. Proc Natl Acad Sci 101:4883–4887CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Reiss MJ (1989) The allometry of growth and reproduction. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Robinson MH, Robinson B (1976) The ecology and behavior of Nephila maculate: a supplement. Smithson Contrib Zool 218:1–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Santos AJ (2007) Evolucao do dimorfismo sexual de tamanho em aranhas. In: Gonzaga MO, Santos AJ, Japyassú HF (eds) Ecologia e Comportamento de Aranhas. Editora Interciencia, Rio de Janeiro, pp 137–165Google Scholar
  43. Stearns SC (1992) The evolution of life histories. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  44. Taylor CR, Heglund NC, Maloiy MO (1982) Energetics and mechanics of terrestrial locomotion. J Exp Biol 97:1–21Google Scholar
  45. Uhl G, Vollrath F (1998) Little evidence for size-selective sexual cannibalism in two species of Nephila (Araneae). Zoology 101:101–106Google Scholar
  46. Vollrath F, Parker GA (1992) Sexual dimorphism and distorted sex ratios in spiders. Nature 360:156–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. White C, Seymour R (2005) Allometric scaling of mammalian metabolism. J Exp Biol 208:1611–1619CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departamento de Ciencias Ecológicas, Facultad de CienciasUniversidad de ChileSantiagoChile

Personalised recommendations