The Optimist Daily recently reported on how spiders use electricity to fly by hopping on electric fields for a ride. If you ask us, that’s pretty cool. Now we wanted to share a new study, from Binghamton University, that has revealed more intriguing secrets about these eight-legged fascinations.
Microphones made of thread
It turns out spider webs aren’t just for catching flies. The Binghamton team, led by Professor Ron Miles, set out to explore the spider’s hearing mechanism of its web.
The group investigated this phenomenon by playing sound at differing volumes, distances, and angles from orb-weaving spiders’ webs. Altering these three constraints caused situational specific behavior to be displayed, like crouching and stretching, which is assumed to fine tune which frequencies they were hearing. The spiders were also able to locate the direction of the sound source with 100% accuracy.
The structures allow the arachnids to extend their auditory capabilities and capture sound, creating a kind of extension for their sensory organs which are found at the tips of their legs. These acoustic antennae create a sounds-sensitive area up to 10,000 times larger than the spider itself, in turn increasing their chances of hearing incoming prey or predators.
The thin and sensitive nature of spider silk sets up this unique relationship. Many studies have previously shown vibrations in webs alert spiders of another organism’s presence, but this is the first to show these structures can alert spiders of vibrating air particles that make up a sound wave.
Webs could teach us a thing or two
The study does not just shed light on extraordinary animal behavior, but also has applications in designing sensitive bio-inspired microphones for hearing aids and phones. “The spider is really a natural demonstration that this is a viable way to sense sound using viscous forces in the air on thin fibers,” Miles explained. “If it works in nature, maybe we should have a closer look at it.”
The group is planning to conduct future experiments on to figure out if other species have this ability to outsource their hearing. “It’s reasonable to guess that a similar spider on a similar web would respond in a similar way,” said Miles. “But we can’t draw any conclusions about that, since we tested a certain kind of spider that happens to be pretty common.”
Source study: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – Outsourced hearing in an orb-weaving spider that uses its web as an auditory sensor