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This Spider Feeds Her Babies by Vomiting up Her Own Guts

Nothing says love like feeding your intestines to your children

Stegodyphus lineatus (Joaquin Portela)
smithsonian.com

Motherhood is a beautiful thing. Lots of moms would do anything for their kids: they bathe them, comfort them and of course, barf up their intestines and let the kids feed on their digestive system.

Every spring, the Stegodyphus lineatus spider-moms of Israel’s Negev Desert bundle up their eggs into a big sac and stand guard over them. As her babies grow, the female spider fattens up on wayward insects that stumble into her web and protects her eggs from male spiders, which will kill them if they get the chance, writes Matt Simon for Wired.

That’s when her insides start to melt. By the time the babies hatch, their mother starts to ooze her liquefied organs through her mouth. If all goes according to plan, she will continue to feed her children this way for the next two weeks, dissolving her internal organs one by one until her enormous abdomen looks more like a shriveled-up balloon. With almost half her body weight gone, the mother finally dies — just in time for her babies to fight over the rest of her corpse, as Mor Salomon, a biologist at the Israel Cohen Institute for Biological Control, tells Simon.

“When they finish her you can see they are very tiny, tiny heads on this very big balloon of an abdomen swollen from all the food they took from her,” says Salomon.

As grotesque as it may sound, this bizarre breed of motherly love is a great way to give the baby spiders a head start. Life in the Negev can be brutal even for bugs - while insects might be plentiful during the spring, there’s no guarantee they’ll still be around come summer, when the spiderlings hatch, Simon writes:

Instead of setting her young loose in a world that isn’t swarming with bugs, she stuffs her face while she can, then gifts her young with dissolved intestines to give them a head start. She’s actually converting that abundant food into tissue and storing it like a refrigerator … that leaks liquified guts instead of freon.

Curiously the mother spider has an escape button, of sorts: if the babies die or are killed within five days of hatching, mom can reverse the liquefying process and save her guts. While the mother spider sacrifices herself, her death helps her offspring to survive in a harsh world. 

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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