They’re Spider Abortions, Not Spider Milk

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Apparently a type of spider feeds its young on milk. That’s what you’d think were true if you read the current crop of stories on the point. But no, they’re not actually feeding the young ones, the spidettes, on milk, they’re feeding them upon abortions. Or miscarriages if you prefer.

Of course, the real detailed thing is none of these but my description is closer to the truth than milk is.

Female Toxeus magnus spiders, native to tropical and subtropical areas in Asia, produce nutrient-rich milk to feed their young for weeks, even after the spiderlings begin to hunt on their own.

They do feed them, no doubt about that, it’s even functionally equivalent to milk, but it still ain’t milk.

Here’s why my description is better:

Toxeus magnus are the jumping spiders studied here, and they look like ants. Their method of child care also seems to be different from the two examples above. They have a specialized organ that makes the milk, which the researchers suggest is made from unviable eggs that are turned into food for the offspring who survive.

If they deliberately express the eggs in order to use them as feed then that’s closer to an abortion. If the eggs are fertilised but then unviable then it’s closer to a miscarriage. In neither case is it anything like milk of course. But then, you know, to get a story into the papers it needs to be simplified, right? And “spiders feed their unborn young to their children” would just be supporting current prejudices anyway. Tell us that and we’d think they were as bad as politicians, or lawyers perhaps.