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Nerves found in spider sex organ

Like many arthropods, spiders don’t have penises. Instead they rely on a set of modified appendages—termed pedipalps—to transfer sperm during reproduction. Previous studies had concluded that the pedipalps, which are basically modified arms emanating from the arachnid’s head, were lacking any sort of neurons that might convey a sense of touch. But new research, published online today in Biology Letters, suggests that the spider’s sex life isn’t an entirely numb deal. Using a combination of histological and computer-based techniques, scientists have identified neurons in the pedipalps of the Tasmanian cave spider (Hickmania troglodytes, seen above). Two main groups of nervous tissue were present: a nerve running to the tip of the sex organ, and two clusters of neurons in the palpal bulb—the region of the pedipalps used for transferring sperm. Though further research is needed to confirm the hypothesis, the team suspects that the sense of touch may enable the males to stimulate the females and even provide feedback about the quality of their mate. The latter hypothesis is especially intriguing because the analyses also revealed that one of the glands in the spider’s sex organ was directly innervated. The team believes this might mean the spiders can control the quality and volume of their ejaculate—reserving the best secretions for the choicest mates.