In Male Spiders The Pedipalps, Located On Either Side Of The Head, Bear Genitalia That Will Deliver Sperm To The Female. The Female’S Genitalia Are Unusually Positioned, Too, In A Cavity Beneath A Hardened Plate On The Underside Of Her Abdomen, Up Near Her Thorax. The Male Must Insert The Complex Structures On The End Of His Pedipalp Into This Cavity. These Structures Are So Tiny But So Complex That Illustrations Of Them Remind Me Of Diagrams Of The Inner Ear, With Their Miniature Interlocking Bones And Curled Cochlea.
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The Sexually Mature, Virgin Female Funnel-Web Spider Produces A Chemical Pheromone That Attracts Males To Her Web, And, Once There, The Male Performs A Well-Studied Routine. First He Sways His Abdomen Back And Forth Rhythmically. Next He Flexes The Web By Raising And Lowering His Abdomen (Think Spider Push-Ups). These Motions Produce Vibrations That The Female Can Detect. The Male That Sways The Fastest Is The Most Likely To Get Lucky, But The Female Is Not Easy To Persuade. He May Have To Continue This Dance For Up To An Hour And A Half. Occasionally He Will Stop And Rest, But The Male That Takes The Shortest Breaks Has The Highest Probability Of Being Accepted By The Female.
When He Has Finally Proven He Has The Right Stuff, He Walks Toward Her And She Doesn’T Retreat. They Face Each Other For A Few Minutes, Motionless. As He Reaches Out To Touch Her, She Faints, Overcome By A Chemical He Has Released. The Now Passive Female Is No Longer A Threat, And He Strokes Her, Takes One Pair Of Her Legs In His Mouthparts, And Turns Her On Her Side. She Must Be Positioned Just Right For Him To Insert The Complex Structure On His Pedipalp. At This Point, The Male Begins Cleaning His Pedipalps In His Mouth, Causing His Spines To Become Erect And Pulsate. It Is Believed That “The Cleaning Process Serves To Lubricate The Genital Bulb And Its Component Parts.”
Now The Most Challenging Part Of The Copulation Begins. Like A Blind Man Feeling The Features Of Someone’S Face, The Male Spider Taps His Pedipalp Across The Female, Searching For The Lock That Will Fit His Key. At Last The Two Engage And The Key Is Literally Turned, The Male Organ A Hardened Coil That Spirals Into The Female. Scientists Tell Us That, When Rotation Has Been Completed, A “Particularly Strong Paroxysm Is Observed.” After The Male Ejaculates The Seminal Fluid, The Coiled Organ Deflates And Is Withdrawn. The “Female May Make Feeble Attempts To Right Herself,” But Generally She Remains Immobile. After Withdrawal, The Male Cleans His Pedipalps And Repeats The Entire Sequence. In The Eighty-Five Spider Matings Gering Observed, There Were Between Three And Eighteen Repetitions Per Mating Event.
Must I Be Concerned That These Scientifically Documented Facts Will Narrow My Audience, And That This Chapter Will Never Be Assigned To An Eighth-Grade Class? As Ralph Waldo Emerson Reminds Us: “Eyes, Ears, Taste, Smell, Motion, Resistance, Appetite, And Organs Of Reproduction That Take Hold On Eternity, All Find Room To Consist In The Small Creature. So Do We Put Our Life Into Every Act. The True Doctrine Of Omnipresence Is That God Reappears With All His Parts In Every Moss And Cobweb.”
The Female Lays Her Fertile Eggs In A Silk Cocoon She Has Produced. She Attaches The Cocoon To The Underside Of A Loose Piece Of Bark And Positions Herself Next To It To Guard It. When The Cold Weather Arrives, She Will Die In Place Next To Her Egg-Mass Cocoon. But The Eggs Will Survive And, Come Spring, The Tiny Newborn Spiders Will Instinctively Head Off By Themselves. They Will Climb Until They Find A Place Where They Might Produce A Web And Capture Enough Food To Keep Themselves Alive Until It Is Their Turn To Conceive The Next Generation.
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