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Eight strange but true spider facts

By Michael Miller and Micaela Jemison

Goliath bird-eating tarantula (Photo by: Meghan Murphy, Smithsonian's National Zoo)

Goliath bird-eating tarantula (Photo by: Meghan Murphy, Smithsonian’s National Zoo)

1. Some male spiders just want to be eaten

Black widows are known for cannibalizing their mates, but this doesn’t actually happen all the time. The exception seems to be the red widow, where the male force feeds himself to the female by placing himself into her mandibles. If she ‘spits him out,’ so to speak, he will keep placing himself there until she eventually eats him.

Female Black Widow Spider, Latrodectus mactans (Photo by: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Insect Zoo/ Butterfly Pavilion)

Female Black Widow Spider, Latrodectus mactans. (Photo by: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Insect Zoo/ Butterfly Pavilion)

 

2. Spiders can see what we cannot

Certain species of salticids (jumping spiders) can see into spectrums we humans cannot. A few have been shown to be able to see both UVA and UVB light.

Anterior Median and Lateral Eyes of a Female Jumping Spider, Maevia inclemens. (Photo by: Thomas Shahan)

Anterior Median and Lateral Eyes of a Female Jumping Spider, Maevia inclemens. (Photo by: Thomas Shahan)

 

3. Some tarantulas fling hair at predators

New-world tarantulas are capable of flinging off tiny irritating hairs, known as urticating hairs, to deter potential predators, similar to a porcupine using its quills as a defense.

Chilean rose-haired tarantula, Grammostola rosea. (Photo by Matt Reinbold)

Chilean rose-haired tarantula, Grammostola rosea. (Photo by Matt Reinbold)

 

4. Spiders can work together

While most spiders are solitary animals, there are some that form communities building large communal cobwebs. Colonies can number in the thousands of individuals and they will work together to incapacitate prey trapped in their webs and share the harvest with each other.

Tetragnathid web at  Arkansas Bend Park, Lago Vista, TX. (Photo by: Joe Lapp)

Tetragnathid web at Arkansas Bend Park, Lago Vista, TX. (Photo by: Joe Lapp)

 

5. Spiders can go fishing

There are some ingenious ways spiders use to capture prey. For instance, the ogre-faced spider weaves a net between its front legs and then dangles above places where prey are likely to pass through. By using its web like a net, it scoops up hapless prey. Bolas spiders use a long line of silk ended with a spot of sticky glue (a bolas), swinging it at nearby moths to catch them, much like a fishing line.

Net-throwing Spider, Ankarafantsika, Madagascar. (Photo by: Frank Vassen)

Net-throwing Spider, Ankarafantsika, Madagascar. (Photo by: Frank Vassen)

 

6. Spiders are the real superheroes

For its weight, spider web silk is actually stronger and tougher than steel.

Photo by: Fabian Viana

Photo by: Fabian Viana

 

7. Ants can be spiders in disguise

There are over 100 species of spiders that mimic ants by having evolved similar appearances and even similar pheromones. Most do it to evade predators, but a few do it to help them prey on ants.

An ant-mimic spider,  Synemosyna formica. (Photo by: Patrick Coin)

An ant-mimic spider, Synemosyna formica. (Photo by: Patrick Coin)

 

8. Spiders have inspired their own dance

During the 16th and 17th centuries it was believed that a bite from a species of wolf spider (named “tarantula,” found in the Taranto region of Italy) would be fatal unless the victim engaged in frenzied dancing to a specific piece of music. It inspired a dance locally known as the tarantella.

Wolf spider face (Photo by: e_monk)

Wolf spider face (Photo by: e_monk)

 

Michael Miller is an animal keeper at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo who spends most of his time taking care of the animals who keep most people awake at night.

 

 

 

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