Esther Beaton


The Spider Olympics

This little feller wasn’t invited to compete in the high-wire gymnastics at the Olympics – probably due to unfair advantage. His type was born with extraordinary skills and an especially strong dose of pluck and courage built right in to his DNA.

The female St Andrews Cross Spider, common in gardens, is a model of sexual cannibalism. Tiny, almost invisible males sit on the outer edges of the great female’s web, waiting for a chance to perform their amazing courtship routine. I was busy photographing the female when out of the corner of my eye, I saw this little guy rush in close to the female, cut a hole in her web and then build a tightrope of his own silk across the hole. Just when she was about to race over to finish him off, he started twanging his little heart out, hanging upside down and twirling a rhythm which stopped her in her tracks. While she paused in indecision, he swung off his tightrope, dove under her abdomen and quickly mated her. Furious, she tried to grab him but he got away, leaving only a couple of legs dangling in her clutches.
However, he still had a contribution to make, so he recharged with sperm and started twanging again. Eventually, when he had only 4 legs left out of his original 8, he sat on the sidelines, exhausted but satisfied that he had produced an effort worthy of gold.
How many Olympic athletes have such stamina to keep trying after several body parts have fallen off? And speaking of stamina, being a photographer willing to set up and record events of nature’s Olympics deserves a medal or two – too.

6 thoughts on “The Spider Olympics”

  1. Great shot and very well observed. Do the males survive after losing a few legs or are they just now easier prey? Pity Aus Geo didn’t acknowledge your spider shots. Carolyn

  2. Wow – makes me wonder what Stephanie would do to Eamon if she were a spider! The power of nature is amazing. Keep up the great work Esther. Cheers, Nick Friend

  3. Timely title, “Spider Olympics.” It appears the male wasn’t going to sit still and pose for any pictures. Is this a natural blue background?…..The more I get to know about spiders, the less fear I have of them. One of my scary childhood movies was “Tarantula,” where the spider grew bigger than a house! I think I had to sleep with the light on that night. Mark, USA

  4. Brilliant! And not just the photograph, but the article itself is just so interesting and well written. I’m loving what your doing Esther, keep it up. Cheers, Julie Watson

  5. Carolyn, I’m afraid the little guys are just plain fodder once they’ve got rid of all their sperm.
    And Mark, it looks like you caught me out. The background is a piece of blue cardboard because I had to photograph these captives in a scientist’s lab. I do wish now I had used a more realistic-looking background!

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