Animals

Mom of the Year? Mother Spider Feeds Self to Babies

A desert spider lets her young eat her from the inside out as soon as they're born. Now that's dedication.

The insect world may have found its Mom of the Year in the female Stegodyphus lineatus, a desert spider that feeds herself to her young shortly after they're hatched.

This practice­, which is known as matriphagy, has been recorded in spiders before, according to Mor Salomon of the Israel Cohen Institute for Biological Control in Yehud-Monosson, Israel.

"Matriphagy was first discovered by the German arachnologist Ernst Kullmann in seventies, so the behaviors of regurgitation and matriphagy are not the new discovery here," Salomon told FoxNews.com. "The big discovery is the mechanism behind these behaviors."

Found in the semi-arid regions of Israel and other parts of the Mediterranean basin as well as throughout the Near East and Asia Minor, the female Stegodyphus spins her webs in shrubbery. Webs studied in Salomon's research were found in bushes near dried-up river beds in Israel's Negev Desert.

Inside the web, she creates a silk disc that contains 70 to 80 eggs, while her intestinal tissues begin to dissolve. When the "spiderlings" hatch, she pierces the silk disc, allowing the babies to emerge.

Note, dear readers, those of you with weak stomachs may want to stop reading at this point.

"[At this time] a liquid has already accumulated in her gut, allowing her to start regurgitating to her young," Salomon said. "While she regurgitates, the process in her intestine intensifies and the liquid formed probably travels back through her intestinal tube to her mouth where she secretes it for her young."

The babies crawl all over her head, trying to get at the liquid that is leaking from her face. She makes no attempt to escape as her young eventually pierce her soft abdomen with their mouths before feasting on the liquefied guts inside. This process takes a few hours, at the end of which their mom (otherwise known as "dinner") is officially dead.

In the end, the mother has given all but 4 percent of her body mass to her young, who leave her heart alone. Thanks, kids!

While it might seem like a case of taking a mother's love too far, in the spider world this is business as usual.

"Stegodyphus is not the only spider genus showing matriphagy," Salomon added. "All species in the family Eresidae (to which Stegodyphus belong) show matriphagy and there are other spider families in which it is also ."

And though many may find the concept of baby spiders eating their mother's liquefied innards revolting, Salomon suggested that it's just another amazing example of nature at work.

"I know it looks ‘disgusting' for someone who is not familiar, but it shows the amazing way evolution and natural selection work," she said. "It is amazing to think that this behavior has evolved as the best way (evolutionarily) for a female to reach a high reproductive success by ‘giving herself to her young'. It really shows how the natural world is remarkable."

The report by Salomon and her colleagues can be found in the April Journal of Arachnology.

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This species of desert spider lets her young consume her, intestines first, right after they're hatched.

You almost feel for them, spiders. They can't help being what they are, and yet almost no one is happy to see them. Especially true when they have exceedingly long legs, thick bodies and a general mien that makes you turn quickly in some other direction. Photos don't bite, though, so let's take a look at some honking-big spiders -- with Halloween on the way, we may as well get started freaking ourselves out. Shown here is the Brazilian wandering spider (a.k.a.

Phoneutria

), a feisty and venomous crawler from South America. Just four years ago it took home an award from the Guinness World Record people for the title of "most venomous" spider. This spidey's legs can span nearly 6 inches, its body just shy of 2 inches. It gets its name thanks to its preference for strolling along the tropic floor at night seeking out prey, rather than building webs or hiding out someplace waiting to strike. During the day, it lays low wherever it's convenient -- even inside banana plants, which is how it get its nickname "banana spider."

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Not to be outdone is a spider that's been making a big splash of late, with an entomologist's

blog about his encounter with one

. It's called the Goliath bird-eater (a.k.a.,

Theraphosa blondi

). It can weigh in at almost 6 ounces and it's been known to reach nearly a foot in leg-span. The "bird eater" moniker must be there to warn birds away, though, because this spider doesn't typically eat birds as a matter of, er, course. It will regularly eat small land animals such as frogs, lizards, and snakes, however.

Spiders Have Personality Too

Meet the golden-silk orb weaver spider. Step into its parlor, if you must. Don't be fooled by its deceptively gentle-sounding name. The female golden-silk orb weaver's body alone can reach 2 inches, its legs can stretch to more than 5 inches, and it's even been observed killing and eating tree snakes. What's more, a study published earlier this year found that these spiders, when living in urban areas,

are growing even bigger

than usual. Interesting side-note: The golden-silk orb weaver also belongs to the oldest surviving genus of spiders,

Nephila

, which has a fossil in the record that dates to 165 million years ago.

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The Brazilian salmon pink bird-eating tarantula has a leg-span that can reach 11 inches and weight that can tip the scales (well, for a spider) at about 3.5 ounces. Despite its name, it's not confirmed that they actually eat birds any more than do the Goliath bird-eaters. Instead, they dine on insects or the random small amphibian or reptile. Instead of making a web, it takes its prey by quick-strike ambush in the open.

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The giant huntsman spider is so big it even took the trouble to have a size descriptor built into its name (given that Goliath was taken). The huntsman is neck and neck, or leg and leg, with the Goliath bird-eater for the title of biggest spider, by leg-span (in sheer body mass, though, the Goliath is more like an offensive lineman, while this spider is a lanky cornerback). A giant huntsman's legs can stretch out to 12 inches, and its speedy, crab-like gait makes it a fast hunter that excels at chasing down its meals. It hails from caves in Laos.

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