Unfortunately, this is the end to many a spider love story. Clinging to her web, the female spider strikes out at her smaller mate (or potential mate, because she didn’t even let him get close). She paralyzes him and wraps him up in the same silky, strong substance in which she has wrapped so many of her other meals. Then, after he’s good and dead, she eats him.
To my surprise (or perhaps horror is a better word), I witnessed this ending to an arachnid relationship on a blustery August day in my back yard. My camera was rolling because I saw the rather large female spider and decided to take a few photos (zooming in with my long lens at a safe distance). While photographing this impressive spider, along came a smaller male. I had read about the fact that males are often smaller than female spiders and that they will linger at the edge of the female’s web, sometimes in a smaller web and sometimes even helping to construct the larger web. I knew right away that I was witnessing some sort of interaction between mates. The male and female both had the same banded legs and general body shape. At first, they appeared to be constructing the web together, weaving a few sticky strands between the grill and lounge chair. But it wasn’t long before they appeared to be fighting (or was it dancing?), striking out at each other with their spindly legs. In fact, the smaller male seemed to be instigating it. He even ran off for a moment, only to come back and strike out at the female again. I was recording their deadly dance when the female snatched up the male and held him in one last embrace. She waited for the paralysis to set in before wrapping him up with quick movements and carrying him to the center of her orb-shaped web, where she left him. I suppose she ate him later. I didn’t stick around.
To learn about orb weavers, visit http://bugguide.net/node/view/1972, which states: “Adult male orb weavers are smaller, and are not seen as often, as they generally do not spin webs, but wander in the search for potential mates … Typically after mating, the males will die (nice way to put it).” Or another great online article about orb weavers is “Spiders seduced into yielding secrets of webs” by Jane Brody and appears on the New York Times website. The article states, “A male spider bent on fulfilling its sexual destiny risks becoming the female’s dinner unless he properly executes his mating signals and remains always ready to beat a hasty retreat. The male interested in mating remains in the outer parlor of the web and announces his intentions by repeatedly drumming or plucking on the sensitive silks. Eventually the female may be won over and allow him to enter her bedroom unharmed.”
So I don’t know if this male was successful in mating with the female or not, but I hope so. He was a feisty bugger. RIP Mr. orb weaver.