Review: Talk: 50 Shades of Spider

Review: Talk: 50 Shades of Spider

Sex lives of spiders and other arachnids

Discovering details of the bizarre and sometimes beautiful sex lives of spiders and other arachnids riveted Friends at a talk by Phil Sirvid, Te Papa Assistant Curator Invertebrates.

Phil described how tough it is being a male spider. Generally, males are much smaller than females and are not much more than wandering palps of sperm. Once grown-up, the drive to mate to pass on their genes is overwhelming. First of all, the spider has to find a female of the same species. It’s estimated only one in four males find a mate. Drawn to a possible mate by pheromones, the spider may find she is a much larger predator, who is determined to eat him.

With over 50,000 species of spider known so far (over 1100 in New Zealand), often the courtship and mating rituals of spiders are entertaining and sometimes mildly shocking. Phil shared most of these activities really shouldn’t be tried at home.

Male spiders use varied ploys to succeed with mating and escape being eaten. Harvestmen have quite direct sex whereas others are ‘Lords of the dance’ and make all the right moves. Some use ‘bondage’ as a strategy, tying-up the female in a web of silk so she can’t attack him. Phil commented females could most probably escape from these types of web, but such a ritual is a necessary part of the courtship.

A male may bring gifts wrapped in silk to divert the female’s attention away from mating and the desire to eat him. Some males fake death to escape this fate.

The kinkiest spider of all is the Darwin’s bark spider. The female’s silk is the strongest biological material ever studied. One of the male’s solutions to staying alive as he crosses the treacherous web is to seduce her with oral sex.

A comment after the presentation suggested the mating rituals described were rather similar to some human activities. Phil replied spiders were doing these types of courtships millions of years before us!

The main mating seasons for spiders are spring and autumn. Phil’s enlightening descriptions illustrated by vivid images of spiders’ courtship and mating rituals, has spurred us on look more closely at what spiders are up to next time we are out exploring their habitats.


Loralee Hyde