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Spiders May Not Know It But They Are Making Music

An MIT researcher has developed an algorithm that translates the delicate vibrations of spider webs into music

One of the presentations at the American Chemical Society’s Spring 2021 meeting featured an algorithm that makes music from the analysis of spiders’ webs: “The spider lives in an environment of vibrating strings,” says Markus Buehler, Ph.D., the project’s principal investigator, who is presenting the work. “They don’t see very well, so they sense their world through vibrations, which have different frequencies.” Such vibrations occur, for example, when the spider stretches a silk strand during construction, or when the wind or a trapped fly moves the web. Buehler, who has long been interested in music, wondered if he could extract rhythms and melodies of non-human origin from natural materials, such as spider webs. “Webs could be a new source for…

close up of a red ant face in white

Can Insects, Bacteria, and Plants Have Personalities Too?

If personality amounts to observed individual differences in behavior, the answer is yes, though the issues are more complex for plants

Yesterday, we looked at a paper in which researchers reported that marmosets (a South American monkey) have personalities. Most of us would simply assume that they do and we are right to think so. Research on many vertebrate animal species shows that even reptiles and fish have personalities. Of course, the number of dimensions a vertebrate’s personality can have varies with its intellectual and lifestyle complexity. But now, what about the vast world of the invertebrates, the life forms whose body is not organized around a spinal cord terminating in a brain? Their body plans can vary from that of a starfish through to a honeybee. Can they have personalities, despite very different brain arrangements, including — in some cases…

Wolf Spider

Why Do We Fear Spiders More Than Bees?

It’s a peculiarity of human psychology that science fiction writers have exploited

Children of Time, the novel that won the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke Award for Adrian Tchaikovsky in 2016, featured a classic science fiction theme: Humanity faces a superior civilization—in this case, a civilization of intelligent spiders. The novel uses and reimagines familiar science fiction conceits – terraforming, superintelligence, a decaying starship – in a story that interweaves the development of an empire of spiders accidentally gifted intelligence with the descent into barbarism of a starship crew searching for a new home. Its thoughtful depiction of two civilisations trying to understand each other cleverly inverts the usual narrative of planetary conquest, and features startling moments of cognitive estrangement during clashes with the alien, yet sympathetically drawn, spiders. Paul Mcauley, “Tale of…

Jumping spider close up. Macro photography. Portrait of spider

In What Ways Are Spiders Intelligent?

The ability to perform simple cognitive functions does not appear to depend on the vertebrate brain as such

This year saw a huge uproar in science media over claims that prominent researcher of spider behavior Jonathan Pruitt, a behavioral ecologist currently at McMaster University in Canada, had fabricated evidence of complex, seemingly intelligent behavior in spiders. After many colleagues recently raised concerns in blogs and tweets that behavioral ecologist Jonathan Pruitt had fabricated the data behind a slew of provocative results regarding animal personalities and social spiders, he denied the charges, saying any problems were inadvertent mistakes. Elizabeth Pennisi, “Embattled spider biologist seeks to delay additional retractions of problematic papers” at Science (March 12, 2020) Some of Pruitt’s data management mistakes seem rather curious: More than 20 scientists — co-authors, peers and other interested observers in the field…