Love can be tough – especially if you are a spider (nuptial gifts in the animal world)

Life must be tough as a spider; you have to coordinate yourself as you move around on eight legs and you’d think that using all those sets of eyes at one time must cause some major visual overload, but all of that seems to pale in comparison to the intricacies of courtship.

The classic box of chocolates, arachnid style

In human courtship a nice box of chocolates can be a great starting point to winning a partner’s heart. Many spider species, like the neotropical spiders, Paratrechaleo ornata, offer enticing food parcels too, when trying to woo a mate. They choose some tasty morsels, wrap them in silk and may even cover them in pheromones. In spider terms, these parcels are fairly irresistible. It is a pretty serious business; if the spider can entice a female to accept his food parcel than he has a good chance of taking the relationship to the next level.

Photo credit: Jennifer Pallian via

The problem is that many male spiders take short cuts. Collecting all that food can be a difficult and time consuming process. And what if you get too tempted with all that lovely food and eat it yourself? Since the parcel will be all covered up in that lovely silk, who is going to know what is inside, right?

When your life depends on the perfect gift

Some species present this kind of gift and then roll over and play dead until the female is distracted eating the food. Male nursery-web spiders (Pisaura mirabilis) take this approach. Once the female has started eating they suddenly come to life and start the mating process. It may sound like a very dramatic courting ritual, but if these males get their timing wrong, they will be eaten, instead of the silk-wrapped food they have prepared. Imagine the pressure of picking that gift?

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The ultimate sacrifice

There are few in the arachnid world though that can beat the Male redback spiders (Latrodectus hasselti) in their gift giving in the pursuit of love.  Once mating has begun the male will literally perform a somersault and present his abdomen to the much larger female. She will start feeding on him but he does not try to escape. Instead he uses himself as his parting gift, buying himself time in the hope that he will at least make a genetic contribution to the next generation. When mating is complete the female clasps him in tightly to her, in one last embrace, before consuming every last piece of him.

So the next time you complain about how difficult it is to find the right gift for your other half, be thankful you are not a spider!


Science blogger and writer; Owner of Dr. How's Science Wows; Mother of three junior scientists who have taught me that to be a great scientist you need to look at life through the eyes of a child!