Science Friday airs on WSQX Fridays 2-4 p.m.
Encountering a jumping spider might give some people a start, but researchers are interested in these agile arthropods, especially their ability to plan and execute complex behaviors. Scientists are studying how jumping spiders coordinate their eight eyes to track fast-moving prey, and how these earless animals can pick up noises from across a room.
Arachnologist Paul Shamble discusses the sensory systems of jumping spiders and how scientists go about measuring the small creatures’ neural activity. And ecologist Eric Olson discusses why these predators might enjoy a vegetarian snack now and again.
Paul Shamble is the John Harvard Distinguished Science Fellow at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Eric Olson is a senior lecturer in Ecology at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management of Brandeis University, in Waltham, Massachusetts.
Check out local research done at Cornell University on this topic.
Jumping spiders are highly visual animals. They use vision in courtship and to catch food. Gil Menda in Ron Hoy’s lab at Cornell University developed a technique to record from the brain of a jumping spider. This enabled him to study their vision but also revealed the surprising fact that some brain neurons were sensitive to both visual stimuli and to sound. It has been known for a long time that jumping spiders were sensitive to substrate vibrations, but this was distant sound. It turns out that they are very sensitive to sounds from about 80 to 130 Hz a frequency characteristic of their chief predator a wasp. When you play sounds of these frequencies to a walking spider, it freezes. Lacking any obvious ears, it is the trichobothria—long hairs on the spiders legs—which are the receptors.