Aggressive and cannibalistic female spiders can impose strong selection on male mating and fertilization strategies. Furthermore, the distinctive reproductive morphology of spiders is predicted to influence the outcome of sperm competition. Polyandry is common in spiders, leading to defensive male strategies that include guarding, plugging and self-sacrifice. Paternity patterns are highly variable and unlikely to be determined solely by mating order, but rather by relative copulation duration, deployment of plugs and cryptic female choice. The ability to strategically allocate sperm is limited, either by the need to refill pedipalps periodically or owing to permanent sperm depletion after mating. Further insights now rely on unravelling several proximate mechanisms such as the process of sperm activation and the role of seminal fluids. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Fifty years of sperm competition’.
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