Wednesday, September 28, 2011


You ever wondered how spiders make love?

This is a rare site let alone shot! Spiders in that act of mating. Spider sex has been stigmatized for years. Many people assume that spiders all act like black widows and kill there mates. This is not true at all. As these spiders showed me and my wife on a lucky day a few weeks ago-- the male and female get along very well and go their separate ways after mating.

These two will get along great and part their separate ways when done. But mating can be hard for a nearly blind predator. Some species actually commit suicide as the male moves his body into the females mouth and forces her to bite him, others it can happen by accident--but this species Araneus diadematus is down right loving when it comes to mating. Other species like the big-jawed spiders that live over water lock there jaws in a kiss while mating to insure they will not bite one another. There are many species who take precautions and mate killing almost never happens. This pair mated twice while we were there giving me the chance to take some rare pictures. Spiders even have a gentle side. This is the same species that amazed scientists by building perfect webs in space after hours of practice and experimentation on the part of the spider, proving that not all there actions are programmed at birth!

This is one of the most common and certainly the most commonly seen spiders here in the Portland Oregon area. However, just getting a chance to see spiders mating is an incredible thing. I have only observed it about 4 times in my life. Photographing it twice now. So this does not happen very often. It is the right season, to see mating spiders you definitely have to think about that. Late summer early fall is a good time. And you must be very still and not frighten them as when any 2 predators come together--a serious amount of careful communication is needed to make sure intentions on both sides are clear--mate and not meal!

They come together slowly, the male and female strutting the web with signals of substance. The female is far larger then the male here, but either spider could deliver a deadly bite to one another. We watched the entire thing twice as I fumbled to get my gear ready for a good sequence of shots and just see this at the same time. It is a rare site, let alone picture! In this species there is no bondage, but in some species the female actually gets wrapped up so that the male does not get bit while mating. In this case, she simply assumes a very submissive pose and the male recognizes that very quickly. He comes in slowly ready to run but confident and soon will embrace her.

The moment just before, she is in a submissive pose. The male who has his legs out--knows this and is ready with the two organs that look like 'boxing gloves' near his mouth. These are the palps. Males and females have them but they are enlarged in males so that the male spider can deliver sperm. The male must insert his palp (usually) into the females sex organ the epigynum. This is located on the abdomen, her underside which she has exposed here in this photo.

Here he is getting ready and she shows no signs of hostility so all is good. This was amazing to see. Someday I will have 2 SLR cameras and be able to do stills as well as HD video of this kind of thing without missing anything. He holds her in an almost loving way and she for the first time since she was a spiderling, lets another spider touch her.

The whole thing is over very fast. He delivers his package of prepared sperm that he put into his palps in a sperm-web (a small silk area made for transferring sperm to his palps before mating). She will store his sperm and he will go off to possibly mate again or mate with another female. No hostility was observed with these two. I was actually surprised by how nice they were to each other. Some species even give the female an offering of food, while other males are born to die--with no mouth--they live for only one reason which is to mate and die in the process. This is not the majority however. Garden spiders are mild tempered and a good thing to have in your garden. They are also called the "Cross spider" because some color variations seem to show a clear cross shape on the back.

After mating was done the male just walked out of the females web and she maintained her submissive pose until he was out of her web. Once this was done she took to tidying up her web taking some debris which had fallen into it while she was mating and removing them. That was funny to watch.
I was fighting the sun when I took these shots, my flash and the sun crated some lighting problems that I did not have time to correct. I got this shot just as I was fumbling to setup my gear for a day of shooting and finding the Triangle spider (article below). The male probably made his sperm web last night to make necessary preparations for transferring the sperm to his mate. He was in very little danger from the female with this species, despite the fact that she was in need of a meal herself. She can wait until she has had some good meals before she lays her eggs.

(Orange A. diadematus)
(Dark, Brown A. diadematus)
The two we saw mating were the Brown variety of the same species. There is also this kind which lives side by side and even a 3rd which seems related to the shamrock spider. I am not sure if this is a "race" of the species that does not often interbreed or if the color differences are just a genetic tag like eye color in humans which can be one or the other. The only way to find out is more observation and research. Both colors have the same webs and share the same name. They also build small areas to hide from the sun during hot days and make an egg sack. This large female has probably already mated and is ready to lay her egg-sack. They only live one year and lay one egg in their lifetime.

NEXT POST WILL BE: the 'Lynx' spider

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