Johns Hopkins University researchers have uncovered exactly how spiders build webs, using night vision and artificial intelligence to track and record every movement of their eight legs as they work in the dark.
A new understanding has been revealed of how spiders can create webs, and structures of such grace, complexity and geometric precision by these magnificent creatures. The results of the researchers’ study were published in the high-impact (2020 Impact Factor=10.834) journal of Cell Press, a respected publishing house, called Current Biology.
Andrew Gordus, the senior author of the study, said: “I first started this topic while birding with my son. After seeing a magnificent net, I thought, ‘If you went to a zoo and saw a chimpanzee doing this, you would think it was an amazing and impressive chimpanzee.’ This is even more surprising because “A spider’s brain is so small, and I’m frustrated that we don’t know more about how this unusual behaviour occurs. We’ve now described the choreography of web formation that has never been done in such fine resolution for any animal architecture.” this made a statement.
Spiders, which blindly construct webs using only their sense of touch, have fascinated people for centuries. Andrew Gordus explained that the first step to understanding how the relatively small brains of these animal architects support high-level construction projects is to systematically document, analyze and record actions related to behaviours and motor skills that have never been done before.
In their study, the research team used a spider species (Uloborus diversus) native to the western United States that is small enough to fit comfortably on a fingertip. He designed a lab environment with infrared cameras and lights to observe the spiders during their nocturnal web-building work.
With this setup, they tracked and recorded six spiders as they formed their webs each night. They tracked and documented millions of individual leg movements with machine vision software explicitly designed to detect limb movement.
The researchers found that their web-forming behaviour was quite similar among spiders, such that they were able to predict the part of the web that a spider is working on by simply seeing the position of one leg.
“Even though the final structure is slightly different, the rules they use to build the network are the same. They all use the same rules, which confirms that the rules are encoded in their brains. Now we want to know how these rules are encoded at the level of neurons.”
Abel Cover, a lead author of the study, said: “The spider is fascinating because here you have an animal with a brain built on the same basic building blocks as ours, and this work could offer clues to how we might understand larger brain systems, including humans, and I think it’s very exciting. ” made the statement.
Study authors included Nicholas Wilkerson, a former John Hopkins undergraduate and now a graduate student at Atlantic Veterinary College, and Jeremy Miller, a graduate student at Johns Hopkins.
Further Reading: Abel Corver, Nicholas Wilkerson, Jeremiah Miller, Andrew Gordus. Distinct movement patterns generate stages of spider web building. Current Biology, 2021; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.09.030
Source: Johns Hopkins University. “Spiders’ web secrets unraveled: Researchers document every step of spider-web building.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/11/211101105356.htm (accessed November 9, 2021).