Given that one of Australia's national pastimes is terrifying foreigners with info about our lethal snakes, fish, molluscs, insects, spiders and drop bears, it is with a certain amount of perverse pride that I discover my new home already has an inhabitant - Australia's second-deadliest spider, the Redback!
The Redback is a small spider, related to the black widow, and possibly the same species as New Zealand's Katipo < About the only thing in New Zealand that'll kill you, apart from the kidney-eating parrots and rugby players - obviously the Katipo is an Aussie expatriate. >
They build messy webs between hot, dry, parallel surfaces, and have naturally thrived with the introduction of humans to their environment, since about all we do is build hot dry structures. Oh, and toilet seats, under which they often lurk with their envenomed scrotum-seeking fangs.
However, they don't subsist on a diet of testes, despite this being Australia. Running down from their web, barely attached to the ground, are dozens of tripwires, each under tension. Should an ant, their preferred prey, blunder into one the line snaps free, catapulting the ant up into the web to become lunch. They *prefer* ants, but they're entirely capable of dealing with lizards caught by the same trap.
They're also famous for the lengths they'll go to in sexual cannibalism. Despite popular impression, most spiders will go to great lengths to avoid being eaten by their girlfriend. Including bondage, pass the parcel, elaborate dance routines and drum solos, and massage. Even in preying mantises, the male frequently escapes, unless there's a biologist watching in which case the lady mantis suddenly forgets what she's doing, glances over her shoulder, yells "who are you and what are you doing to my cooter?" and bites her lover's head off before he's done.
But redbacks really do eat their boyfriends. Indeed, the males will *compete* to throw themselves joyfully into her jaws.
After his finishes the first round, he'll swing around undeneath her so he can have a shot at both halves of her reproductive system. Because of her size, and shape, this places his abdomen exactly underneath her mouthparts. In any normal species this would be a good oppurtunity for mutual oral sex, but this being spiders and Australian spiders at that, she instead murmurs "oh, are you still here?" and sinks in the fangs.
Being disembowelled doesn't stop his efforts tho - partly because of the most ridiculously contrived sex organs on the planet.
Male spiders inseminate the female with their pedipalps - the little leg-like things either side of the fangs. In jumping spiders they're often brightly coloured and waved at the ladies with great enthusiasm. But the sperm isn't made in the pedipalps, oh no - first he has to charge them with sperm from his own gonopore, then turn his pedipalps inside-out into her gonopore.
Where it snaps off.
< see TISM's song 'Everybody Else Has Had More Sex Than Me' - the bunny agrees it's worth it >
Rivals thus frustrated, our heroic redback expires, innards dissolving, going down warm in the knowledge that any of the offspring to this union are going to be his, and his alone. Meanwhile, his rival gets himself untangled, cursing with rage, as the object of all this desire wraps up Hubby to eat as a post-coital snack.
Of course, all this means another crop of redbacks, but no matter. We Australians are so proud of our wildlife we only go for treatment if we stop breathing :>