Males of sexually cannibalistic spiders commonly mutilate parts of their paired genitals (palps) during copulation, which may result in complete emasculation or the ‘eunuch phenomenon’. In an orb-web nephilid spider, Nephilengys malabarensis, about 75 per cent of males fall victim to sexual cannibalism, and the surviving males become half-eunuchs (one palp emasculated) or full-eunuchs (both palps emasculated). While it has been shown that surviving eunuchs are better fighters compared with intact males when guarding the females with which they have mated, mechanisms behind eunuchs’ superior fighting abilities are unknown. The previously proposed ‘gloves-off’ hypothesis, attributing eunuchs’ enhanced locomotor endurance to the reduction in total body weight caused by genital mutilation, is plausible but has remained untested. Here, we tested the gloves-off hypothesis in N. malabarensis by comparing the time until exhaustion (i.e. endurance) of intact males with half- and full-eunuchs created experimentally. We found that by reducing body weight up to 4 per cent in half-eunuchs and 9 per cent in full-eunuchs through emasculation, endurance increases significantly in half-eunuchs (32%) and particularly strongly in full-eunuchs (80%). Our results corroborate the gloves-off hypothesis and further point towards the adaptive significance of male emasculation.
- Received March 30, 2012.
- Accepted May 17, 2012.
- This journal is © 2012 The Royal Society