• A female black widow spider spins her web. (Photo: US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Female black widow spiders are known for the rather cruel treatment of their mates; the ‘widow’ in the name gets its origin from the female spider’s unromantic habit of eating her partner after mating. However, according to a new study released this week, there may be black widowers as well.

The study, published in Springer’s Journal of Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology on Monday, shows that male black widow spiders of the Micaria sociabilis species are more likely to dine on their female partners than be eaten themselves.

Researchers Lenka Sentenska and Stano Pekar, from Masaryk University in the Czech Republic, studied the mating behaviour of the spiders over a two-year period. Their results showed that the male spiders made distinct mating choices based on age; large, younger males more frequently cannibalized old females from a previous generation than females of the same age.

The researchers note their study “provides an insight into an unusual mating system, which differs significantly from the general model.” Some male black widow spiders have more choice in mating than previously thought, and do engage in the occasional nuptial nibble just as the females do.