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Sorry, but this is graphic spider porn

Date

Ian Warden

A peacock spider shows a female all he's got.

A peacock spider shows a female all he's got.

One tries not to give in to downmarket readers' demands for sexually explicit material to appear in this column.

But these are difficult times for the press, and so a column must appear to be all things to all readers.

Here below, then, to my great shame, is a graphic description of sexual intercourse.

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It is a description, from a scholar at the Western Australian Museum, of an encounter between a male and a female peacock spider.

Readers will remember from a recent column that these spiders, unique to Australia, are the subject of a dashing 2013 calendar assembled by two Canberra spider experts and enthusiasts, Jurgen Otto and Stuart Harris.

It has, too, been printed and published in Canberra.

Christmas Eve was the close of nominations for the Like Canberra project, by which we were all invited to nominate up to five things we like about our city.

One suspects this exercise has been a total flop, partly because most of us find the essence of Canberra hard to define.

For example, there's something utterly, likeably and uniquely Canberran (but hard to put a finger on) in the creation by two arachnogeeks and at their own expense of an all-spider calendar, and in the way in which all 500 calendars printed have been bought and generally gobbled up by Canberrans.

Harris, writing to thank us for a mention of the calendar, reports that last Saturday and with only 50 calendars left, he sold 32 in a flurry at the Bus Depot markets, and then sold almost all the others the same day to discerning Canberra women.

''A very successful day and a very successful project,'' Harris rejoices.

Now the male peacock spiders in the calendar are all pictured engaged in spectacular courtship displays of the kind the peacock does with his tail.

Here, to go with today's picture (the species is Maratus volans) and to help you make blush-making sense of it all, is the aforementioned passage of arachnoporn.

The male approaches a voluptuous female, dancing and jerking and jumping, and then if she's receptive: ''When the male is about three centimetres away from the female he suddenly raises his abdomen and unfolds the side-flaps, thus creating an almost circular, brightly-coloured target … he shakes this flared abdomen, jerking from side to side and imperceptibly closing the distance between them.

''Receptive females appear to be entranced by this performance, and when the male is finally within touching distance, the female is immobile and allows him to climb over her cephalothorax, turn her abdomen and insert a pedipalp.''

Readers will be pleased to know the ensuing embrace is not one of those fleeting, selfish, meaningless encounters but ''can take up to two hours'', hopefully of considerate spider love-making.

 

Romeo, er, Andrew Peacock, where art thou?

There has been another, welcome, reassuring glimpse of what is probably Andrew Peacock, the bird whose disappearance from his usual home at the National Library of Australia has caused such angst among library staff who had come to love and admire him.

There were fears of an untimely end, or even of kidnapping, but no ransom demands have been received.

And readers will remember that Glen Knight of Narrabundah reported a memorable visit to his back garden by what appeared to be the regal Andrew (Knight sent us pictures of him).

Now Knight writes: ''Just an update on Andrew (maybe). He was sighted by my next door neighbour about 6 o'clock this morning only a few feet from his front door. It gave him [the neighbour] a bit of a start. So he's still around.''

If the visitor is Andrew then it makes sense, because there is a small peafowl cluster in Narrabundah and Andrew, so lonely and bewildered at the National Library that he had begun to turn on his dazzling mating display for (unappreciative) pigeons, may have wandered in search of meaningful relationships with others of his species.

Meanwhile, this column's request for Andrew sightings yielded reports of peacocks that might have been him (but probably weren't) from places as far apart as Brereton Street in Queanbeyan (close to an open bush area) and then from a farm 30 kilometres north of Goulburn.

The Goulburn farmer thought, ''I may have him. Some weeks ago a male peacock appeared at my farm. Quite tame, though he won't let me touch him.''

This is unlikely to be Andrew and so the farmer is blessed with the arrival of a stranger.

In the flurry of interest caused by Andrew and his whereabouts, some readers are asking if peafowl are native to Australia.

The answer is no, they are from exotic India, but because they were introduced to the great estates of the filthy rich of 19th-century England they were then thought to be just the thing to give status to the squattocracy here and were imported.

And unlike lots of imported fauna, they don't seem to have leapt the fences and multiplied and become major pests.

That some burghers of Narrabundah/Griffith sometimes complain about the small peafowl combo in their neighbourhood (the noise! the mess!) surely says more about Canberrans as the First World's supreme whingers than about any harm the peafowls do.

 

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