October is a difficult time. In this month, one of the best beneficials in the garden is maligned, cast as a villain and used in effigy as a Halloween horror. What a cruel reputation the spider has, when all it really needs is a little understanding.
Once you get to know these web-spinning wonders, you’ll welcome them into your garden and yard, so celebrate the month by taking a peek into life as the thing many people fear the most.
Let’s start with a Halloween love story.
Some time ago, I was asked if it’s true that spiders scream while mating. A friend had read this in the local paper and wanted to check if it were true. This set me to thinking….
Why would they?
From the female’s perspective, the wooing and winning of love often involves having to endure the male dancing about, rushing in to tap her on the head to see if she’s interested, and dashing away in case she’s not. This goes on, back and forth, until the male, convinced of success at winning her heart, gently enfolds her in his arms. All eight of them.
Who wouldn’t scream at being held in arms covered in spines and tipped with claws?
How delighted she must be when he runs his fangs in a loving caress along the back of her head. Males don’t like to approach the front – that’s where her fangs are, and he isn’t taking chances. His embrace is from the back, and since the female is typically much larger than the male, he has to hold on somehow. Fangs are a handy way to grip her in the embrace.
If this weren’t enough, consider that he has not one, but two pedipalps (male spider genitalia) with which to woo, for reasons I’ll talk about later.
Female spiders aren’t the only ones who have good reason to scream. There’s risk involved for the male and the whole process is one long, stressful event. After spending his life minding his own business, he has his final molt, at which time he leaves his web in search of a female.
He may no longer hunt or be interested in food, he’s so consumed with finding the girl. Following a silken thread perfumed with pheromones, drumming the ground to provoke a response, or wandering about hoping for the best, the search may take him far from home.
This often leads him into danger from other spiders, predatory birds, or human houses. Males looking for love are a large number of the spiders found in our homes; how sad that their quest for love often meets a tragic end under someone’s shoe. (The female doesn’t engage in such nonsense – she has better sense than to give up her food and housing just to search for a guy).
Once the female is found the risk increases. They are almost always larger – like a school bus is to a mini Cooper – faster, stronger, and quite often, hungry. It’s a thin line between being a suitor or being a supper, and males must take steps to ensure that the female is well fed before any love happens.
Some males use the ‘tap-and-dash’ method to test her willingness or pluck her web lines like a lute; others take no chances and bring living food as a nuptial gift. “Here, have dinner,” is a plan tried by many animals in this world.
Yet once she accepts the male, there’s still risk. True, he has two pedipalps, which seems impressive, worth boasting over. But there’s a rather gruesome reason for this: with many species, after the nuptials take place the male must seal off the female to make sure no other male can impregnate her. He does this by snapping off the pedipalp to leave as a plug. When a spider decides to ‘break it off’ with his girl – he really means it.
Are you screaming yet?
To answer the question “do spiders scream while mating?” one has to respond “who wouldn’t?”. But spiders don’t have vocal chords or bellows-like lungs with which to scream. Their sounds come from rubbing legs, drumming the ground and other external means. So the answer is “no”, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t if they could.