Welcome to the spider lab at Murray State!
Laura Sullivan Beckers, Ph.D.
In this lab, we are interested in understanding how behavioral phenotypes are shaped by evolutionary forces including natural and sexual selection. Behaviors associated with reproduction are very well-suited for the study of selective forces as they are intimately tied to evolutionary fitness. Mating behaviors become even more important in species in which sexual cannibalism is common. The behavioral phenotypes that we investigate include courtship signals and displays, as well as cognitive traits used in reproduction such as mating decisions and the effects of social experience on reproductive behaviors.
Spiders and their courtship
We primarily work with wolf spiders in the genus Schizocosa (although we are branching into genus Tigrosa). These are ground-dwelling spiders that actively hunt their prey and live for about one year. They are very common throughout the US, and are active as adults from March – July in western Kentucky. In this genus, each species has a unique courtship display that males employ to attract females for mating. Courtship displays can be simple (comprised of a single component in one sensory modality) or complex (incorporating multiple components in one or more sensory modalities). Male courtship displays include the vibrational or seismic signal modality in the form of stridulation of pedipalps or other body segments as well as percussive signals such as drumming and striking the substrate with their bodies to create vibrations. Males of some species also signal in the visual modality by waving their (often ornamented) legs. Females in this genus only respond positively to males of her own species. In some Schizocosa species, females are aggressive and will kill unwanted males and/or males of different species. When a female is receptive to mating, she may display her interest to the male by engaging in stereotypical posturing or movement (i.e. pivoting). Females will only mate once in a lifetime, while males attempt to mate multiply.