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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Worthless donations: male deception and female counter play in a nuptial gift-giving spider

Maria J Albo12*, Gudrun Winther1, Cristina Tuni1, Søren Toft1 and Trine Bilde1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, Ny Munkegade 116, Aarhus, Denmark

2 Laboratorio de Etología, Ecología y Evolución, Instituto de Investigaciones Biológicas Clemente Estable, Avenida Italia 3318, Montevideo, Uruguay

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:329  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-329

Published: 14 November 2011



In nuptial gift-giving species, benefits of acquiring a mate may select for male deception by donation of worthless gifts. We investigated the effect of worthless gifts on mating success in the spider Pisaura mirabilis. Males usually offer an insect prey wrapped in silk; however, worthless gifts containing inedible items are reported. We tested male mating success in the following experimental groups: protein enriched fly gift (PG), regular fly gift (FG), worthless gift (WG), or no gift (NG).


Males that offered worthless gifts acquired similar mating success as males offering nutritional gifts, while males with no gift experienced reduced mating success. The results suggest that strong selection on the nuptial gift-giving trait facilitates male deception by donation of worthless gifts. Females terminated matings faster when males offered worthless donations; this demonstrate a cost of deception for the males as shorter matings lead to reduced sperm transfer and thus give the deceiving males a disadvantage in sperm competition.


We propose that the gift wrapping trait allows males to exploit female foraging preference by disguising the gift content thus deceiving females into mating without acquiring direct benefits. Female preference for a genuine prey gift combined with control over mating duration, however, counteracts the male deception.