The Sad Life of a Male Spider


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It’s bad enough to be a spider but male spiders have some of the worst sex lives. The females not only control how long the sex will last, but in some species they more often than not terminate the males right in the middle of the act when they come down with a serious case of the munchies. Well, as scientists have recently learned, instead of sulking in a web, some male spiders have crawled up to combat this injustice.

So what do spiders use to fight this injustice? * Their penis. Let’s take a quick excursion into spider reproductive biology. Firstly, male spiders actually have two penises called pedipalps, and secondly, they’re located too close to the face if you ask me. Look: 1.png During *“remote copulation” the male breaks off his own pedipalps and implants it in the female, then tries to get away. Daiqin Li, at the National University of Singapore and his colleagues studied the species and found that after the male breaks away his severed organ continues to pump sperm into the female. This allows him to fertilize her remotely. This denies entry to other males. Even though the male cannot regrow his genitals, he increases the odds that he will become a father. I think this is fascinating—that a male spider sacrifices his penis just to be a father. It’s as if these male spiders have nothing to live for other than protecting their potential offspring. source

On the topic of spiders I wanted to know why female spiders eat males. Below are the hypothesis I found:

  • Males are more likely to be eaten if they are much smaller than females, which likely affects how easy they are to catch. In one species of spider, Hogna helluo, large males were never consumed while small males were consumed 80% of the time. Conclusively, males are more likely to be eaten in species where males are small relative to females. Isn’t it fascinating how the simple characteristic of males being smaller than females can determine their if they get eaten or not. source

  • Females benefit from feeding on a male by breeding earlier, producing 30 percent more offspring per egg sac, and producing progeny of higher body condition. source

  • I found conflicting results concerning the nutritional benefits of male spiders. A study by BBC, relative to their normal prey, male spiders are not very nutritious, and females only eat their mates if they are starving. That suggests that hunger is not the main driving force that compels females to eat their partners after sex. source

Which of the three hypotheses do you think is the most credible? I personally think that females do gain nutritional benefits from eating. If they didn’t, can’t they just go prey on something else? Also, what do you think about male spiders snapping off their pedipalps to leave them in the female spiders for the sole purpose of reproduction? I honestly, didn’t think they would be so eager to become fathers. I don’t think they appreciate having a male snap off her penis and leave inside of her. Maybe female spider will learn their lesson and stop eating their mates. Discoveries like these are so intriguing and it reminds me that there is much to learn about nature.

2 Comments

This is an extremely interesting article. Something I would never have known without reading your blog! I think the second hypothesis is the most plausible. If it is true that females benefit from feeding on males by breeding earlier then it would make sense that female spiders would eat males during sex. I find this to be very sad though :( The males are devoting an organ to fathering a child and the females is just using him followed by his murder.

What a fascinating blog post! From reading the theories suggested to explain why a female spider might eat it's mate, I'd say the second theory sound the most plausible. If by eating the male the female produces more and stronger babies, it makes sense that they would be drawn to eat them. Maybe the tendency to eat the male partner is a genetic trait that has been passed along. If there was a genetic connection between this practice, it would be passed along more often since the mother would have the trait as well. I also found it fascinating that the male spiders are starting to fight back. It's incredible to think about how a spider could learn such a method of breaking off a piece of itself for survival. Great read!

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