***The following is a guest blog post from biologist and researcher Matt Adams. Matt is asking some fascinating research questions about a group of animals that are often unfairly demonized: spiders! Read on to learn more about spiders that can jump!***
Have you ever seen something small, multi-legged, and possibly sinister looking crawling up your wall? Did it stop and look at you as you approached it with your shoe poised over its little body? Did it then proceed to jump away from you just as the shoe came down? If so, you may have found one of the ubiquitous jumping spiders! And that, my friends, is what I’m here to talk to you about today.
Jumping spiders (family salticidae) are small (usually less than a centimeter/half an inch in length), fuzzy arachnids that are known for their incredible hunting prowess, exceptional vision, and surprising mental abilities.
Salticids are unlike most other spiders in many ways. The first thing that most people notice is that many of them can jump several times the length of their body. The second thing they notice is that these little spiders typically do not spin webs to capture prey. In the words of one famous jumping spider researcher, salticids are like “tiny eight-legged cats.” In other words they are voracious little predators that stalk and pounce on their prey in a very feline-like manner. For a great example of this hunting behavior, check out this video!
Unlike most spiders, jumping spiders have excellent vision, though not quite as good as ours. To give you an easy comparison, if our vision is high speed internet, jumping spider vision is dial-up: All the same information eventually gets there, it just takes a lot longer for the spiders to see the same level of detail we see almost instantly.
This brings me to my research. I study visual learning in jumping spiders. In a nut shell, I show jumping spiders videos of conspecifics (members of the same species) that are hunting a prey item. The videos are basically identical except for one important detail: the ending. One group of videos ends by showing the conspecific attacking and feeding on the prey item. The other video shows the conspecific attacking, and then rejecting the prey item. This subtle difference in video endings is enough to affect a change in the spiders future hunting endeavors, even though the spiders never actually interact with the prey items themselves. Just witnessing another spider interact with the bug on video will change how those spiders behave the next time they encounter the prey item they saw in the video. But here’s the kicker… we don’t know why this change happens. Is it because they are learning about the prey item? Or is it because they are learning that there are other members of their species in the area? While we currently don’t have the data to answer these questions, research that would answer these and other questions is being planned and hopefully we will find out soon!
If you’d like more information about these amazing hunters, come check out my blog, yoursfor8eyes.blogspot.com. Happy spider watching!
Tags: conservation, EOC, eyes on conservation, jumping spiders, Nebraska, research, salticids, spider, University of Nebraska, wildlife