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This Male Spider Gives Oral Up to 100 Times During Copulation

These female spiders force males to go down on them up to 100 times “before, in between, and after copulations.”

by Daniel Oberhaus
May 1 2016, 2:00pm

Image: Matjaz Gregoric, et al.

Say what you want about your last hookup, but as far as sex in the animal world goes, humans have it pretty good. Female garter snakes have their "mating ball" (which is just as horrid as it sounds), male white fronted parrots vomit into the female's beak during copulation, and then of course there are female spiders, many species of which are renowned for cannibalizing their mate after the deed.

According to new research published on Friday in Scientific Reports however, it's not all beheadings and no (fore)play when it comes to spider sex—in fact, one particular species has been shown to have a "rich sexual repertoire" which includes forcing the males to engage in oral sex up to 100 times during copulation.

Known as the Madagascan Darwin's bark spider, the females of this recently discovered species are several times larger and heavier than the males. According to the researchers, they use this size advantage to force males to salivate on their genitals "before, in between, and after copulations."

If you're wondering what this might look like—and I know you are—it looks like this:

While other species have been known to engage in oral sex, such as lemurs, lions, dolphins and bats, the researchers report that this behavior in spiders is incredibly rare—the only other spider known to engage in such behavior are widows.

Although the researchers aren't entirely sure why male spiders engage in oral sex, they do have some ideas. It is perhaps an analog of mate binding, where a male spider deposits silk on the abdomen of a female prior to copulation to tone down her aggressiveness, thereby avoiding cannibalization after sex.

More likely, however, is that the oral sexual contact signals "male quality." If this is the case, the researchers write, this would signal a "cryptic" female selection mechanism which allows them to select the best mate based on the saliva deposit. Or, perhaps, enzymes in the male spider's saliva offer a physiological advantage over a rival's sperm, similar to the way other insects have seminal toxins.