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The ungentle joy of spider sex (knowablemagazine.org)
114 points by knowablemag 33 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 54 comments

I learned way more about spiders in the sci-fi book "Children of Time" by Adrian Tchaikovsky than I thought I would! The basic premise is that the evolution of spiders on a new planet is hyper-increased, and they become the dominate intelligent species on the planet.

The sexual dimorphism comes into play because male spiders are the victims of sexism in spider society. They are smaller, weaker, but eventually work towards equality.

That book is interesting but nightmare inducing!

If hyper evolved kinda-realistic spiders are your thing and their first contact with a highly evolved humanity, I strongly suggest Vernor Vinge's "A Deepness in the Sky".

It also introduced to me the concept of software archeologists.

He will actually respond to you his email domain is the name of the ISP from the first book!

His books are easily top 3 for me now

The Zones of Thought series is fantastic, and A Deepness in the Sky may be my favorite sci-fi novel of the many dozens on my shelf. Highly recommend, and I wish there were more novels set in that universe.

Interesting that you mention a sci-fi book, because I was reminded of James Tiptree Jr's masterpiece "Love is the Plan the Plan is Death", which also tackles the subject of spider-like aliens and their strange lifecycles and mating rituals (it seems Tiptree -- aka Alice Sheldon -- actually knew her spiders, because her aliens perform some of the antics described in this article).

Thank you for mentioning this and reminding me of this story. Tiptree's writing is amazing. The short story can be read for free here: http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/love-is-the-plan-t...

That book was a delightful surprise.

I never expected that the chapters about giant, intelligent spiders to be the parts that kept me hooked. I'm not sure I could have cared less about what happened to the humans.

I love me some Pham Nuwen, but in A Deepness in the Sky the giant, intelligent spiders were the coolest characters in the whole damn book.

That book will give you a new perspective on the term "weaponized autism".

That book also has another bit in there with the programmer archeologist - digging through centuries of technical debt to find ways to make ancient code work in different ways.

My favorite passage in the book:

> There were programs here that had been written five thousand years ago, before Humankind ever left Earth. The wonder of it — the horror of it, Sura said — was that unlike the useless wrecks of Canberra’s past, these programs still worked! And via a million million circuitous threads of inheritance, many of the oldest programs still ran in the bowels of the Qeng Ho system. Take the Traders’ method of timekeeping. The frame corrections were incredibly complex — and down at the very bottom of it was a little program that ran a counter. Second by second, the Qeng Ho counted from the instant that a human had first set foot on Old Earth’s moon. But if you looked at it still more closely… the starting instant was actually about fifteen million seconds later, the 0-second of one of Humankind’s first computer operating systems.

The moon landing is such a better modern epoch than Jan 1 1970.

Commented this earlier

The author will actually respond to you his email domain is the name of the ISP from the first book! His books are easily top 3 for me now

I wasn't too far into the book before I was firmly on the side of the spiders, which was a surprise!

Hahahaha I was just thinking that, having walked back from the bathroom where that book is currently my "Shiterature Literature"

I'm 85 pages in, so the sexist tones are there... but not in full force (yet, by the sounds of it). Portia's note on the male spiders always thinking about fear was... interesting. But also useful insight at the time lol.

Out of topic...

This book is really expensive as a hardcover! I had to look around to make sure it's not a glitch.

It goes for $180-$374 on amazon.com and $630-$1222. $800 on ebay.com even! Woah.

I'm guessing it's out of print and extremely popular?

Likely not because of extreme popularity. Publishers almost always switch very quickly from hardcover to only printing paperback editions because the market isn't willing to pay the additional cost. It's worse for weird scifi novels because the market is small, so the hardcover run for this was probably tiny.

There are many SciFi titles that are extremely expensive in hardcover these days. There is a lot of amazon volatility, so I tend to use price watch sites, but some also consistently stay in the hundreds of dollars (for example, the original printing of Hyperion). I suspect that this is because the genre used to sell badly in hardcover and many SciFi fans have come into money over the last few decades, but I'd be curious to hear from somebody who understands the market better.

Amazon prices for uncommon/rare items can get wierd.

There was an issue a while ago with resellers that would look for items on amazon, and create a duplicate listing with a slightly higher price. If they got an order, they could buy the item from another amazon seller, and onsell the item for a profit.

This broke in a predictably amusing way when there were only a few vendors for an item, and all of them were doing the same thing - each vendor updating their price to be higher than the others, quickly spiralling up to ludicrous values.

Get it on kindle, I have it and it's brilliant.

Edit for typo

I usually try to get Sci-Fi books in hardcover (that's how I read all my first Sci-Fi and it stuck with me)... I'll make an exception for that one!

I love how regularly I'm seeing this series pop up. I've loved both his books in this series and hope for several more. A movie or TV series would be amazing.

"All loves have to die; of that there's no help.

My favorite way to end 'em

Is the orb weaver spider's, whose pedipalp

Enters the female pudendum,

Then dies on the spot, his corpse there still stuck,

Left for his rivals to curse it.

He would rather die than not get to fuck;

Personally, I reckon it's worth it!"

--TISM, "Everyone Else Has Had More Sex Than Me"

Spider sex is fascinatingly bizarre, but if you really want to be grossed out, look up bedbug sex. The female bedbug has no vagina analogue or other opening in which to leave sperm, so the male bedbug just kind of fucks away at her until he pierces or wears a hole in her exoskeleton and injects his sperm into that, where it floats around in her hemolymph until it finds her eggs. Female bedbugs are thus highly susceptible to coital infection, but those fuckers are nevertheless adapted for survival even despite our efforts to get rid of them.

My God, I had completely forgotten about this video.


Actually came here to post that verse, and found threads * about Vernor Vinge instead, then that someone else beat me to it.


----- * threads... silk... web... SWIDT?

So many great quotes.

I wonder how the lifespans correlate? Those of the mentioned species I know, the females seem relatively long lived, with in some cases investment in parenting.

Which leads to: Wolf Spiders. [1] These charming ladies are prolific in and around our home and are often seen carrying clusters of babies on their backs. Truly endearing.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolf_spider

So I am the weird one who read this

I'm with you, friend. May we rejoice in our newly attained, unusual facts!

If you enjoy this sort of thing, you'll probably really enjoy "Dr Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation: Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex" [0]. It's quite a fun framing that takes on a lot of the oddities that pop up around sexual dimorphism, mating, child care, etc.

[0] https://www.amazon.com/Tatianas-Sex-Advice-All-Creation-eboo...

Thank you :)

It's exactly the kind of thing that should be on HN.

It's fascinating that a species of spiders perform oral sex.

A lot of research I've read has considered spiders to be mindless automatons, which would make the widely varied conditional logic extremely hard to understand how it could be selected for by natural selection, as opposed to some level of more robust thought simply being present in the species.

I'd suggest reading up on the genus of spider Portia (which incidentally is the main "character" of the sci-fi book mentioned above)


A BBC clip about the spider: https://youtu.be/ERuJiSt8pF4 - there's more to the longer clip with Portia playing with the web of another spider to get it to move out of position and other behaviors.

If behavior is just the aggregate of individual actions, and actions are an output of (the black box that is) the brain, and the brain is an output of genes, then why shouldn't behavior be selected for?

I agree with that, I just don't think its merely if/then logic like I had been exposed to earlier, but more calculated thought process

Fun beetle sex story on Radiolab that includes a dramatization by a visiting crew of Broadway singers:


I have actually watched this rite on my front porch between two jumping spiders. The large female was aggressive but a tad slow. The much smaller male rapidly circled her (counter-clockwise?) for minutes like a stopwatch. Occasionally he would jump for her back and she would rebuff him and/or try to eat him. But eventually he prevailed. I'm pretty sure I actually saw him tucking away his sperm packet by reaching underneath her. But once the deed was done they both split in opposite directions. Hardly Romeo and Juliet...

Jumping spiders changed my mind about spiders in general. Anyone who isn't familiar with jumping spiders should find one or watch some videos. They're unbeluevably observant, and not just reacting to movement like other arthropods. Their vision and their behavior in response to their environment is very sophisticated, which I think might be why they don't rely on website to catch prey.

Do they log onto Amazon to order their prey? (Sorry, couldn't resist!)

no no, that's why they don't order from websites

ba-dum tsss!

Peacock spiders are pretty awesome too:


I love jumping spiders. There's just something about them that's fun, cute, etc. Maybe it's the little short furry legs and such but I'm always happy to coax one up onto my hand to look at it or let it sun on my leg when sitting outside.

The stuff of nightmares, with pictures...

The first photo of the golden orb weaver spiders mating is awesome: awe-inspiring, and I certainly wouldn't want to be either creature, but it doesn't look nightmarish to me. Then again, I've always liked bugs.

Well... that article made my skin feel like it was crawling with spiders. Interesting read though. Thanks OP.


You might want to reconsider demonizing half the human race. But if not, there's a community for you over at /r/redpill

While I don't really think the comment is appropriate through this thread, throughout human history most men did not have children so it is not entirely inappropriate. What conclusions you draw from it may be inappropriate.

There's part of the old testament that focuses on giving young men advice to not being taken advantage of by society and specifically women, so the sheer length of time OP's complaints have existed is noteworthy.

If you can figure out which book, chapter, and verses you refer to, I would be interested to know. Maybe Proverbs chapter 6 [1]? I think that would enhance the discussion (even if this subthread would become a bit of a tangent). It's generally good to go to the primary source even if you don't follow the religion in question.

If we are talking about Proverbs 6, then -- what it has to say /could/ be spun as misogynistic, but it isn't very, really: The message (in regards to women) is to avoid adultery; the metaphor is that practicing adultery will cost you much more than visiting a prostitute (of which it presumably also does not approve). It is the kind of thing you could imagine a mother, nanna, auntie, or babushka giving to a young man as advice. Seems commonsensical enough.

If you had something else in mind though, it would be great if you could share.

[1] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+6&vers...

And slavery has been around for the length of humanity and still exists today. That doesn't mean it's appropriate.

Ultimately it's subjective and a value judgment. You do you.

EDIT: I shortened OP's "not entirely inappropriate" to "appropriate"

What is even the point of that comparison?

There's a difference between misogyny and protecting yourself from hardship.

Doesn't misogyny create hardship for half the human race?

Yes, but why are you comparing what I am talking about to misogyny?

Does hypergamy?

Appropriate for what? Discussion?

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