There is a species of Peruvian spider which makes fake spiders five times its own size to put in the middle of its web. The spider, in the genus Cyclosa, builds its model out of leaf fragments, egg sacs, dead prey, and its own cast-off skin, then places it in the centre of the web.
Zoologists don't know why it does so. It might be either to distract predators into attacking the dummy instead of the real spider, or perhaps as a decoy to convince other spiders that the web is occupied even when it isn’t (a little like leaving the lights on in a house to deter burglars). The real spider sometimes makes a little pocket in the decoy's abdomen and hides inside it.
Even more bizarrely, there is a separate species of spider in the Philippines, eleven thousand miles across the Pacific, which does almost exactly the same thing. Nobody knows whether this is due to convergent evolution, where two species evolve similar behaviour independently, or whether they're somehow related.
Why did it have to be spiders? Why couldn't it be ‘Follow the butterflies’?
An average spider will spin more than four miles of silk in a lifetime.
Mushed-up spiders was a treatment for the common cold in 16th century England.
There is a certain species of spider in which the males find cannibalistic females much more than non-cannibal females.
For most male-killing female spiders, if they smell of a dead male, they’re likely to put off other males. However, male Pennsylvania Grass Spiders are far more likely to approach a female if she has recently killed and eaten a male.
This sounds extraordinary, but in fact it makes sense. While they normally just eat flies, during their breeding season, females normally eat males. This seems risky because they're only likely to meet about three males during their breeding season.
However, in lab tests, three quarters of male spiders preferred to approach a female which had killed and eaten a male spider over a female which had just eaten a cricket. The cannibal females were also likelier to produce egg cases after mating, and those were likelier to hatch out.
So why do males prefer cannibalistic females? The answer is simple: females typically eat only one male, even if they have another opportunity to eat another male later on. Therefore, if your girlfriend has already killed and eaten one male, she probably won’t want to kill and eat you. If a male approaches a female which doesn't stink of dead male, however, it's entirely possible he’ll end up as lunch.
Scientists don't yet know why the female likes eating males (instead of their normal food), or why some females refrain from eating any males at all.
One species of spider, Argyroneta aquatica, lives completely underwater.
When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.
Male common house spiders only really leave their webs to find a mate, so if you find one in your sink it is likely to be sexually frustrated. Every year in early autumn sexually mature males go off in search of females. It is at this time that they are most noticeable, running across carpets and falling into sinks, toilets and baths – they don’t come up from plugholes as is often assumed. House spiders usually die in winter anyway, but at least those who escape the bath have had some vigorous copulation to soften the blow. Therefore if you find a trapped spider, perhaps you'd consider helping him to climb out of the bath by lowering a piece of toilet paper or a specially made spider ladder, and then introducing him to a nearby female? We thought not.
House spiders can survive for months without food or water; like many spiders the female will eat the male after mating, but at least in the house spider she waits for him to die naturally first. The female redback spider, by contrast, is a hundred times the size of her mate; if the male is successful in inseminating her, he does a somersault into her mouth, and she eats him up.
Spiders on drugs create unusual webs. Scientists tested this by getting spiders high on a variety of drugs, then letting them settle in somewhere and make a web. Marijuana prevented them from finishing the job. Conversely, an ‘upper’, such as amphetamine benzedrine, made them spin a web very quickly, but without much planning, leaving large holes. Spiders which had had caffeine made very haphazard webs.
Similar experiments at the University of Ohio show that spiders prefer classical music to other genres. Domestic spiders were subjected to Bach, techno and rap. When the music was techno and rap they built their webs as far away from the speakers as possible; when it was Bach, the webs were constructed close to the speakers. So now you know what to play to drive spiders out of your home.
Spiders taste and listen with their feet.
Spiders do not eat their prey. They dissolve their victims and then drink them, rather like a milkshake.
Spiders are predatory, territorial carnivores. Put 10,000 spiders in a sealed room and you will eventually end up with a single fat spider.
Once you begin watching spiders, you haven't time for much else.
Tarantula blondi or The Goliath Bird-Eating Spider very rarely eats birds. It prefers earthworms and the occasional insect and small vertebrate. The reason for its name is that the man who first discovered the spider happened to see one eating a hummingbird. Soon after the discovery, the 19th century artist Maria Sibylla Merian made a copper engraving of it eating a hummingbird and the name stuck.
T. blondi is one of the largest spiders in the world. It may be the largest by mass. It is eaten in northeastern South America – chefs singe off its hairs and roast it in banana leaves. It has been described as tasting ‘shrimplike’. Females live for up to 25 years, males only 6. It's a tarantula, but its sting is only as painful as that of a wasp.
Spiders have big brains. The smaller the spider, the less room there is for its brain so it spills over into its legs.
One of the effects on men of being bitten by a Brazilian wandering spider is an unwanted erection.
Medieval surgeons used spider webs to close wounds.
Nursery web spiders who bring an edible gift wrapped in silk for the female get to mate for 10 times longer than those that don’t.