Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mother-Eating Spiders

This past Sunday, the rector of our church began his Mother's Day sermon with a description of a spider in the Negev Desert that feeds herself to her newly hatched babies. I found her online (trigger warning for squick):

Mother Spider

While the eggs grow in their silken case, with the female watching over them, her intestinal tissue begins to dissolve. When the spiderlings hatch, she regurgitates this liquefied material for them to eat. As more of her internal organs turn to liquid, the babies swarm over her face, feeding on the goo that leaks out. Finally, they "pierce her soft abdomen with their mouths" to devour the rest of her guts.

According to the article, "In the end, the mother has given all but 4 percent of her body mass to her young, who leave her heart alone." That's either a perfect metaphor for sacrificial parental love or, from a different viewpoint (as Buffy said to Angel when he expressed a desire to hold her heart and keep it warm), "Euwww."

Matriphagy (eating one's mother) has been observed among many species of spiders. Suppose we visited a planet dominated by sapient aliens with this kind of biology? Such infantile cannibalism would seem revolting to us. Our own reproductive and child-rearing habits, however, might repulse some Earth animals if they were sapient. What would an intelligent bird think about carrying a live infant in one's abdomen and having to painfully push it out in a bloody mess instead of neatly laying an egg? In a story by Isaac Asimov about a pair of aliens trying to figure out human reproduction, one of them recoils in disgust at the idea of the young consuming fluid from a living body (breast milk). A culture of sapient matriphagous spiders might condemn our failure to feed our bodies to our children as the equivalent of abandoning a newborn baby to die.

Matriphagy would have far-reaching social consequences, of course. No children would ever know their mothers or grandmothers, and the only females able to take a proactive role in society would be celibate. Maybe they would have a dedicated class of celibate females who serve as teachers and surrogate aunts to the young. And suppose that world's scientists invented a high-tech method of surviving motherhood, such as in vitro reproduction? Would some factions denounce it as an unnatural abomination?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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