Question Jonathan Science

How do spiders have sex, and what music do they prefer while they do?

How do spiders have sex, and when they do what music do they prefer listening to? Is there any evidence that spiders like music?

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Answer Internal Staff

Spider mating often involves elaborate courtship rituals, which may be necessary in order to prevent the female from eating the (usually smaller) male. The rituals can involve the males strumming the web to produce specific vibrations (possibly to ensure that they are of the same species, and that he is not mistaken for prey), and a specific pattern of touches of the female’s body. Many species of jumping spider also participate in striking dances. Gifts of food may also be offered by the male in the hope that his mate will be too occupied eating it to attack him.

Though fertilisation is generally internal, many terrestrial arthropods mate indirectly, by exchanging spermatophores, packages of sperm produced by their bodies. Although spiders do reproduce in this way, they do not naturally produce spermatophores. The male spiders spin a small, specialised web (called a ‘sperm web’), and ejaculate on it. They then transfer the sperm to specialised structures on their pedipalps, the appendages on either side of the spider’s mouth resembling a smaller pair of legs (spiders with larger, bushier pedipalps are usually male). In mature male spiders, the pedipalps develop a ‘papal bulb’ on their final segment. The structure and complexity of the papal bulb varies between species, but always contains a tube or duct which allows the uptake and storage of sperm. If the courtship rituals are successful, the male will transfer the stored sperm into the female’s genital opening, known as the epigyne, on the underside of her abdomen.

It is also worth mentioning that some spider species, such as Triaeris stenapsis, contain no males at all. The females reproduce exclusively by parthenogenesis, meaning that they never mate, and all their offspring are effectively clones of themselves.

Although music in general seems to have no impact on spiders, some species’ mating rituals do include an auditory component. These are exclusively produced by stridulation – rubbing two textured body surfaces against each other. Wolf spiders are known to ‘purr’ in order to attract a mate.