SPIDER SENSE Just How Smart Are These 8-Legged Critters?
Before you continue reading this article, ask yourself, “Do you actually want to know?” For all the females at my house, spiders are the definition of creepy. It’s not that they’re small, that they hide in dark places, or even that they’re bugs (so are butterflies). It’s the way they move. Fear of spiders has spawned all sorts of rumors, including the urban legend that humans swallow eight spiders per year. But what about their intelligence? If I asked my wife or youngest daughter, “Did the spider that chased you do it by choice?” they would immediately say yes. Unfortunately, as it turns out, it probably did. I read a recent article based on a study by Fiona Cross and Robert Jackson at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand that found spiders’ behavior shows evidence of “expectancy violation,” meaning they have expectations of what they’re going to see, and if they don’t see
it, they understand the difference and alter their actions. That means they absorb more information than you think — about the same as nonhuman primates (monkeys) did in a similar study. They also have the ability to pick up signals from potential mates, according to another study. “These tiny animals have far more capacity for complex (and subtle) communication and decision-making abilities than we ever gave them credit for,” said George Uetz of the University of Cincinnati, who conducted the study. Finally, another study at Cornell University found that not only can some spiders “hear” at close range and see exceptionally well — which makes sense, with their eye count — but some species of jumping spider can hear you as far as 10 feet away. I know what my wife and daughters are thinking. “Reading all these articles on spiders is fine, but we all know they’re just out to get us!”
And if you don’t get
this quote from a real scientist, you’re stronger than the ladies in my family. “How an animal with
such a small nervous system can do all this should keep us awake at night,” said Cross. For those of us with severe arachnophobia, it certainly will. And if you see Madge, ask her about the HUGE banana spider she saw last week on the trail ride. She’ll tell you that it was HUGE and that it could have gotten both her and her horse Max!
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Carolina for seven years, where she worked as an early Head Start interpreter for migrant workers. She graduated from Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory, North Carolina. Juanita is the mother of
Juanita Calvillo is the criminal legal assistant at The George McCranie Law Firm in the Valdosta office. She was born in Bakersfield, California, and grew up in middle Georgia. She later lived in North
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