Ontogeny : The question of ‘ontogeny’ or ‘development’ describes how the behavior develops, including genetic and environmental influences

This aspect of behavior is rarely studied in respect to sexual cannibalism. Instead many studies have chosen to study the environmental influences that interact with the genetic predisposition for the behavior, affecting the circumstances in which the behavior is performed.

In some species sexual cannibalism occurs very often and seems to be a permanent fixture of the animals behavior, such as in the dune scorpian (see mechanism). Few studies have been done on the development of this behavior simply because it appears to be a result of the lack of ability to distinguish between a potential mate and prey. In other species, though, the  behavior of sexual cannibalism is onset by environmental factors or certain states that the animal is in. In the Giant Asian Mantis (Hierodula membranacea), for instance, sexual cannibalism varies by food availability (Birkhead et al 1988). In a study by Birkhead, Lee and Young (1988) mantids were kept at various states of hunger, mated, and then rates of sexual cannibalism and ootheca (and egg mass containing many eggs surrounded by a protein foam) size were recorded. The highest rates of sexual cannibalism occurred in mantids kept in a low-food high hunger state. Among this group those who cannibalized had larger ootheca resulting in more offspring.

Wolf Spider Cannibalism
A female wolf spider cannibalises her male mate (BBC)

In Wolf Spiders (Schizocosa ocreata) sexual cannibalism appears to affected by age. Persons and Uetz (2005) tested a group of the spiders by starving them in a controlled manner and comparing rates of sexual cannibalism with morphological characteristics and age (Persons 2005). It was found that the likelihood of cannibalism increased with age of the female, independent of size. These results suggest that the behavior of sexual cannibalism is developing over time. This development cannot be a result of learning through experience of sexual cannibalism because these spiders were isolated and virgins. It could be based on learning of another sort. It could also be the result of other factors or age such as some sort of genetic trigger set of by a chemical that increases in concentration in the spider with age. These hypotheses require further testing, however, for confirmation.

Studies on sexual cannibalism in wolf spiders have shown a correlation between older females and increased rates of cannibalizing male mates (Persons 2005).