Funnel-web spiders all aquiver in courtship routine

·1-min read
Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS

Sydney funnel-web spiders engage in elaborate courtship behaviour with leg and body vibrations part of the complex mating regime, a new study has found.

Researchers in Germany and Australia studied more than 450 videos of mating pairs at the Australian Reptile Park in Somersby, NSW.

"While the high level of toxicity and development of anti-venom has seen the funnel-web studied in the past, little is actually known about its ecology," Flinders University ecologist Bruno Buzatto said.

"This is the first reconstruction of mating behaviours in funnel-web spiders where the behavioural repertoire is difficult to document due to the concealed life in funnel-shaped webs that are built in soil and leaf-litter habitats."

The courtship starts with the male's elaborate display outside the female's burrow and includes quivering legs, whole-body vibrations and tapping of the female's legs.

Copulation ultimately occurs when the male lifts the female upright at a 90-degree angle and uses spurs on his legs to stabilise his position.

The spurs were previously thought to be used to prevent the female from attacking and eating the male but are now believed to be used to pull the female closer "and probably have more a sexually selective function than one to avoid cannibalism".

"Female Sydney funnel-web spiders appear to remain quiescent during mating but some copulations ended with the male being chased away by the female," Dr Buzatto said.

The study, by experts from Flinders University, Hamburg University, Museum of Nature Hamburg and the Australian Reptile Park has been published in the Journal of Zoology.