In news I never thought I’d read let alone write, new studies by German and Australian experts show that Sydney’s venomous funnel-web spiders engage in safe sex to reproduce.
This might be something that many of us have never really thought of before but the complex mating rituals of Sydney funnel-web spiders are actually very difficult to observe given their toxicity to humans.
But now researchers, including Flinders University ecologist Dr Bruno Buzatto, have observed sexual routines like leg and body vibrations and female lifting.
“This is the first reconstruction of mating behaviours in funnel-web spiders where the behavioural repertoire is difficult to document due to the concealed life in funnel-shaped webs that are built in soil and leaf-litter habitats,” Dr Buzatto said in a press release.
The study, published in the Journal of Zoology, details how male funnel-webs will lift the female ahead of final copulation in order to reproduce. Researchers also observed the pre-copulatory courtship and sexual behaviours including the chase, leg and body displays and lunge before the lift.
According to Dr Buzatto, “Female Sydney funnel-web spiders appear to remain quiescent during mating but some copulations ended with the male being chased away by the female.”
Previously, it was believed that male Sydney funnel-web spiders used their ‘clasping spurs’ to engage in safe sex. In this understanding, the spider’s concept of safe sex doesn’t include condoms or other contraceptive measures but rather ensures the female Sydney funnel-web doesn’t attack, kill or eat the male. How romantic.
However, Dr Buzatto said that cannibalism amongst funnel-webs is rare and is likely to occur more in captivity rather than in the wild.
In fact, the new research actually suggested that the spurs have a more sexually selective function, using them to pull the female towards the male and keep them there. Also not very romantic.
How did they find all this out, you may ask? Well, researchers basically watched a lot of spiders going at it hammer and tong to observe the full spectrum of their mating patterns.
The funnel-web spiders were part of a breeding and venom-collecting program at the Australian Reptile Park in Somersby where different mating pairs were filmed in 451 videos with around 165 minutes of footage.
The videos show average 20 mm adult males and 27.5 mm females often leaving their burrows to mate.
You really do learn something new every day.
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