Spider moms spotted nursing their offspring with milk.
On a summer night in 2017, CHEN Zhanqi made a curious find in his lab in China’s Yunnan province. In an artificial nest, he spotted a juvenile jumping spider attached to its mother in a way that reminded him of a baby mammal sucking its mother’s teats. On closer inspection, the spider mom really seemed to be doting on her young, he says. “She had to invest so much in caring for the baby.”
Further study by CHEN and Quan Rui-Chang, behavioral ecologists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’s Center for Integrative Conservation in Menglunzhen, confirmed the jumping spider females were indeed producing milk for their offspring—and that they continued to do so even after the spiderlings became teenagers, they and colleagues report today.
Providing milk and long-term care together is virtually unheard of in insects and other invertebrates. And with the exception of mammals, it’s not even that common among vertebrates. As such, the results “help increase our understanding of the evolutionary origins of complex forms of parental care,” says Nick Royle, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom who was not involved with the work. They suggest prolonged mothering may not require the complex brain power that researchers have assumed, he says.
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