The Dedicated “Mother Spider”

But spend a thought on the unfortunate males

My grandfather used to have a big, hairy spider in a glass cage on his desk and sometimes I’d feed it. At elementary school, for a weak little boy, I enjoyed a surprisingly high status in the pecking order, because I could touch spiders (which the bullies could not). And now people often ask me questions about spiders: aren’t they all poisonous, had they better be killed, can they cause short-circuits, and of course, do female spiders really eat their males? Well, first of all, female spiders with the rare exception of the pond species Argyroneta aquatica for example, are almost always considerably bigger than their males. In some tropical Nephila species females may be 50 times the size of their tiny male partners. But although they may be big in comparison to their males, the brains of the females (remember, we are only talking of spiders here) are small and the one thing constantly on their minds is to eat and get fat, eat and get fat, eat and get fat. So, an amorously inclined, tiny but courageous male is truly in great danger of being mistaken for a tasty morsel of food – a fly, a beetle, a bug perhaps.

A male in order to succeed in reaching his goal, has to proceed cautiously indeed. In web-building spiders the male carefully plucks the silk strands of the web of his chosen female and transmits a coded message to his love, perhaps something like “I am not a fly; I may be small, but I am a male with the best intentions. May I come closer?” If the female does not react to the vibrations created by the love-sick male with an attack, it signals to the male that she may tolerate him and he would therefore dare to approach her more closely, ready at any time, however, to run, leap, or drop to safety should the female change her mind. In the cute little jumping spiders there is no web and the males indicate their intentions and their identity to the chosen female visually: they wave their little hairy ‘arms’, twist their bodies and dance in front of their chosen bride. Crab spider males may go a step further: they sometimes present a small gift to their bride, but not trusting her fully, will then quickly fasten a few strands of silk across her body, pinning her momentarily down.

In spite of these precautions some males can fall victim to the appetite of their chosen brides, but most escape after the precarious mating-job is done, be it with one or two or three legs less than before. Female spiders, it needs to be said, do not eat their partners habitually. It’s just that they are always quite hungry and can make mistakes. Although it should be clear from what I have described that female spiders certainly don’t make good wives, the longer-lived species, and even those that survive only until the start of winter, are usually devoted mothers, guarding their egg cases (as so touchingly described in the story “Charlotte’s Web), may carry their brood around, defending them, in some cases even feeding them. And what are they feeding them with? Well, not normally with their “husbands”, but with flies, bugs, moths and other insects. So, unless you are a lover of flies and pesky vermin, do abstain from killing my friends, the spiders – a message, I suppose, I had better send to spider-consuming people of Nagaland, other South-East Asian countries and certain regions of Papua New Guinea.

hair naked ape human biology

Spider are not the only ones to have furry legs! Click here if you want to read “Human hairiness”

© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and http://www.bioforthebiobuff.wordpress.com, 2016.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to V.B Meyer-Rochow and http://www.bioforthebiobuff.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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