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Environmental, Physiological, and Social Drivers of Mating Behavior

Opiliones is an Order of arachnids commonly known as harvestmen, or daddy longlegs. Although harvestmen and spiders are both arachnids, the two orders are not otherwise closely related.

The harvestmen of North America exhibit high diversity in mating behavior across even closely related species. In some species, mating interactions involve long, aggressive struggles between the male and female. In other species, mating involves a quick, cordial exchange. Mating behavior also varies across the mating season, as the opportunity for finding mates dwindles, and across morphological traits, which can determine mating outcomes. Even physical conditions (e.g. water deprivation and parasite load) can affect mating behavior and success.

In this study, we explore this incredible diversity in harvestmen sexual behavior, including behavior before, during, and after copulation. We use a combination of field work and experimentation in the lab to determine the role of morphological, environmental, and social conditions in mating behavior, within a phylogenetic context. We are working on this project in collaboration with the Boyer Lab at Macalester college.

Behavior is compared across species, as well as across geographically separated populations of a single species, in order to better understand the determinants and dynamics of mating behavior.

 
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Documenting Mating Behavior

To collect data, we spend hours upon hours watching individuals mate (or try to mate) in the lab and in the field. We take detailed notes of posture, duration, grappling styles, and success rates. See some of our video footage here.

For more videos, explore our YouTube channel.

 
 

Leiobunum calcar mating

Leiobunum politum mating

Underside of Leiobunum alrichi mating pair

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Physiological drivers of behavior

We do a lot of microscope work to understand how morphology and body condition influence mating behavior

We explore how body size and other morphological traits, including egg load in females and weapon size in males, influence the behaviors and outcomes of mating attempts. We also explore how environmental conditions, such water availability, influences mating dynamics in these animals, which are incredibly water limited.

 

Harvestmen & parasites

Harvestmen have more than just predators to worry about – they are loaded with parasites called gregarines!

Gregarines are large (roughly half a millimeter) parasites that inhabit the intestines of a large number of invertebrates. Currently, about 250 genera and 1650 species are known in this taxon. Most species have life cycles that involve just a single invertebrate host (e.g. harvestmen). We are learning more about these fascinating creatures, and how they might influence behavior, in collaboration with Leticia Soares.


Explore more projects

Too Hot for singing

Temperature variation and mating behavior in treehoppers

Global warming poses unknown challenges to the abilities of animals to attract and find suitable mates. In this study, we use Enchenopa binotata treehoppers--captured across a latitudinal gradient--to better understand the plasticity of male signals and female preferences in response to temperature changes, as well as their potential consequences for reproduction.

When predators attack!

The physiological and behavioral ways that arthropods detect and escape predators

Attracting mates and finding food can be  risky when predators are around. In this study, we explore 1) the types of "sensory cues" (e.g. sight, sound, or chemicals) that prey use to detect predation threats; 2) how individuals change their behavior when a predator is around to avoid detection;  and 3) the behavioral, physiological, and physical tactics that individuals use to escape an attack.

sound art

Experience Life as an Insect in the Leaves

The Sound Art project began with a fortuitous meeting between Kasey Fowler-Finn and world-renowned sound artist Stephen Vitiello. In 2015, Kasey and Stephen developed an immersive audio exhibit that brought visitors into the depths of plant-borne sound. Today, Kasey and Stephen are developing their next exhibit, which will demonstrate how global warming may influence communication in vibrational insects.