Prey availability affects developmental trade-offs and sexual-size dimorphism in the false widow spider, Steatoda grossa

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In many spiders, females are significantly larger than males. Several theories have been postulated to explain sexual size dimorphism (SSD), including differential predation risks experienced by each sex early in life (including female cannibalism of males), male-male competition, and the more costly production of eggs than sperm. However, there is considerable intraspecific variation in the relative size of males and females that is reflected in trade-offs on traits such as growth rate and body size. When SSD favors female size, the body mass ratios between the smallest and largest males is expected to be much greater than in females. Here, growth trajectories and body masses of the false widow spider, Steatoda grossa, were compared in male and female spiders fed continually or intermittently. Males provided with unlimited prey (fruit flies and house crickets) took about 15 weeks to attain full size and sexual maturity and grew to a mean of 25 mg. By contrast, males fed only once every three weeks took approximately 6 weeks longer to reach maturity but were only about half as large (mean 13 mg) as males fed constantly. Females fed intermittently took almost twice as long (45 weeks versus 24 weeks) as constantly-fed females to reach maturity, but were almost 90% as large when fully grown. These results reveal that, although both sexes trade-off development time and body size to achieve the optimal phenotype, rapid development is more important than larger body size in males whereas the opposite is true in females. This finding supports life-history theory underpinning sexual-size dimorphism in some spider lineages.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104267
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Insect Physiology
Early online date2021
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • NIOO
  • Plan_S-Compliant-TA
  • Life-history
  • Food limitation
  • Sexual selection
  • Body mass
  • Growth trajectory
  • Development time
  • Environmental stress


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