It is a common belief that the black widows gets her name because she eats the male after mating. While it does happen it’s not as often as you would believe but did you know it also occurs in many other spider species? This idea may have come about from lab testing where researchers were studying mating habits and put the spiders in a small controlled tank. The male had little room to escape and I guess the Mrs. just couldn’t help herself. Also it is quite common for a piece of the male to break off after mating as he makes a hasty retreat (he heard the same rumor) and this may have given rise to the notion that the female bites the head off of her mate after mating.
Mating for the black widow is a dicey situation however but her ability to retain the sperm means she only has to mate once. Does that mean the guy is lucky or unlucky? Mature males produce sperm in a small web and deposit semen on it, he then fills his palps and leaves his habitat looking for a mate. This may take some time but when he finds her web he plucks the snare or trigger strands to entice her to come out. Once he determines she is the right specie of spider the mating ritual begins. (It is his palps that determine the compatibility as the palps of any other spider will not be the right size or shape to fit into the females reproductive openings). The male approaches and begins to slowly tap or caress the female and if she stays still he will advance further. This can take quite some time as she can be very picky, only the right combination of touching or vibrating her web will arouse her. If successful he positions himself so that he can insert his palps into her spermathecal openings releasing the sperm onto the eggs inside of her. After mating a palp may break off as the male makes his retreat.
The female then spins a small web where she lays her fertilized eggs and then spins more webbing to encase them. The pear shaped sac is well protected and often camouflaged but soon after the eggs hatch the babies are on their own. Oh yea, she eats a bunch of them too. Out of the 1000 or so baby spiders that hatch some estimates say that only about a dozen get away from the female without being eaten. Maybe it’s a good thing that the female only has to mate once but the male is free to go off again and try his luck with another mate but my heart goes out to the kids.
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