January 24, 2014
Twerking Can Save Lives
For most of us humans, “twerking” only means one thing: Miley Cyrus’s performance with Robin Thick at MTV’s Video Music Awards. In the natural world, however, twerking is something really different.
For male black widow spiders, twerking — or at least vibrating — can save their lives. Female black widows are not the most friendly of mates. They will eat nearly anything on their web, according to National Geographic, including prey or other spiders. Samantha Vibert, a graduate student entomologist at Simon Fraser University said that the males, “upon entering a female’s web, will pause and vibrate its abdomen up and down, keeping the rest of its body quite still,” to avoid being eaten like prey.
The study, published in Frontiers in Zoology, shows that the males’ friendly vibrations on the female’s webs, created by jerking the web, are meant to send the message that the male is there to mate, not to be prey.
The female spider’s web functions as a sort of extension of her “exquisitely tuned sensory system,” which allows her “to very quickly detect and respond to prey coming into contact with her silk,” said Catherine Scott, also a Simon Fraser graduate student.
The male spider has figured out how not to move like a cricket or a fly when touching the web, protecting himself from her predatory nature. Don’t you wish your mate could figure out such a lifesaving communication skill?
To figure this twerking communication out, the scientists recorded vibrations made by male black widows (Latrodectus hesperus), hobo spiders (Tegenaria agrestis), and common prey species.
Female black widow spiders were exposed to male black widow spider vibrations, and likewise for female hobo spiders. Both groups of females were exposed to pray vibrations. The team, led by biology professor Gerhard Gries, found that black widow males send longer lasting, low amplitude vibrations that keep the females docile. This vibration is like a constant humming.
“These ‘whispers’ may help to avoid potential attacks from the females they are wooing,” explains Scott.
Hobo spiders, however, displayed no twerking behaviors and their vibrations did not differ much from those of prey animals. The difference, according to the study, is most likely the size of the male spiders. Male black widows are much smaller than their female counterparts, while male hobo spiders are about the same size. Luckily for hobo spiders, their women don’t eat them if they move wrong.
The researchers wanted to see what would happen if they changed the vibrations of the male black widow spiders. They found that the females went on the defensive and attacked.
So the moral of this story for the male black widow spider is to move slowly and bounce your bottom like Miley. You just might survive.
Image Credit: Thinkstock