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Scientists Find That Spiders Can Hear You From Across The Room

Scientists Find That Spiders Can Hear You From Across The Room

We all know them. Those 8-legged creepy, crawling terrors that send some of us running in fear for our lives – spiders. Spiders, the stuff of nightmares, just got more terrifying. Scientists have recently discovered that spiders can hear us from across the room, even if we can’t see them!

The Surprising Discovery

Scientists have known for quite some time that spiders have exceptional vision, particularly jumping spiders. They’ve even known that spiders are able to feel nearby vibrations. But, because they don’t have ears, scientists believed they couldn’t hear at all.

“The standard textbooks say that spiders are acutely sensitive to airborne vibrations from nearby sources, sounds about a body length or a few centimeters away. We have discovered that jumping spiders can hear things from much farther away than this,” says Gil Menda, co-researcher of Cornell University.

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This discovery actually happened by accident. The researchers were studying how spiders process visual information by making neural recordings of their brain activity. After taking a recording, Gil Menda moved his chair and it squeaked.

“The way we do neural recordings,” explains Paul Shamble, co-researcher, “we set up a speaker so that you can hear when neurons fire – they make this really distinct ‘pop’ sound – and when Gil’s chair squeaked, the neuron we were recording from started popping.”

Gil moved his chair again and the neuron popped again. Not convinced of what they were seeing, the two researchers started clapping. When the spider neurons responded, the researchers started moving farther away. They reached 5 meters away from the spider and the reaction continued.

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The two were amazed. “You thought they were just these little creatures of vibration and vision,” says Paul Shamble, “and now all of a sudden you realize that they can hear, too.”

The Research

Now that they knew spiders could hear, the team conducted additional research to figure out how. They tested spiders’ hearing by using both behavioral experiments and neural recordings. The behavioral experiments were done to determine the spiders’ reactions to sounds. The neural recordings were to determine which frequencies caused the spiders to respond.

According to the experiment, spiders are most sensitive to low-frequency sounds of between 80 and 130 hertz (Hz). This frequency is the same as that emitted by the wingbeats of parasitoid wasps, a predator of spiders. Spiders freeze when they hear this sound, an anti-predatory behavior.

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How Spiders Hear

If spiders don’t have ears, how is all of this even possible? Turns out, the hairs on their legs are sensitive to sound.

Previously, scientists believed these hairs were only able to detect airborne vibrations from just a few centimeters away. This new discovery has shown that spiders process the vibration into neural activity. In other words, spiders are not simply sensing vibrations, but rather hearing.

To test this, the researchers placed water on the spider’s legs in order to muffle the vibrations. The spider stopped firing auditory neurons, meaning the spider could no longer hear.

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Significance of the Finding

This research only involved jumping spiders, but follow-up studies show that they are not the only ones with this ability. Fishing spiders, wolf spiders, net-casting spiders, and house spiders are all able to hear. And since most spiders have hairy legs, it is likely that others can hear too.

Why does all of this matter? This finding could result in new technologies for people. In the future, devices such as hearing aids or microphones may include hairlike additions, resulting in improved performance.

As Menda says, “In the movies, Spiderman has this strange, additional ’spidey-sense’ that helps him sense danger—it turns out the real-life spidey-sense of spiders might actually be hearing!” Which is exactly what we need, spiders with actual spidey-senses.

Don’t let any of this worry you, though. If spiders are eavesdropping on our conversations, they can’t repeat anything they hear. It’s not like they have the ability to talk… or do they?

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Amber Pariona

EFL Teacher, Lifehack Writer, English/Spanish Translator, MPA

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Last Updated on September 10, 2018

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

We thought that the expression ‘broken heart’ was just a metaphor, but science is telling us that it is not: breakups and rejections do cause physical pain. When a group of psychologists asked research participants to look at images of their ex-partners who broke up with them, researchers found that the same brain areas that are activated by physical pain are also activated by looking at images of ex-partners. Looking at images of our ex is a painful experience, literally.[1].

Given that the effect of rejections and breakups is the same as the effect of physical pain, scientists have speculated on whether the practices that reduce physical pain could be used to reduce the emotional pain that follows from breakups and rejections. In a study on whether painkillers reduce the emotional pain caused by a breakup, researchers found that painkillers did help. Individuals who took painkillers were better able to deal with their breakup. Tamar Cohen wrote that “A simple dose of paracetamol could help ease the pain of a broken heart.”[2]

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Just like painkillers can be used to ease the pain of a broken heart, other practices that ease physical pain can also be used to ease the pain of rejections and breakups. Three of these scientifically validated practices are presented in this article.

Looking at images of loved ones

While images of ex-partners stimulate the pain neuro-circuitry in our brain, images of loved ones activate a different circuitry. Looking at images of people who care about us increases the release of oxytocin in our body. Oxytocin, or the “cuddle hormone,” is the hormone that our body relies on to induce in us a soothing feeling of tranquility, even when we are under high stress and pain.

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In fact, oxytocin was found to have a crucial role as a mother is giving birth to her baby. Despite the extreme pain that a mother has to endure during delivery, the high level of oxytocin secreted by her body transforms pain into pleasure. Mariem Melainine notes that, “Oxytocin levels are usually at their peak during delivery, which promotes a sense of euphoria in the mother and helps her develop a stronger bond with her baby.”[3]

Whenever you feel tempted to look at images of your ex-partner, log into your Facebook page and start browsing images of your loved ones. As Eva Ritvo, M.D. notes, “Facebook fools our brain into believing that loved ones surround us, which historically was essential to our survival. The human brain, because it evolved thousands of years before photography, fails on many levels to recognize the difference between pictures and people”[4]

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Exercise

Endorphins are neurotransmitters that reduce our perception of pain. When our body is high on endorphins, painful sensations are kept outside of conscious awareness. It was found that exercise causes endorphins to be secreted in the brain and as a result produce a feeling of power, as psychologist Alex Korb noted in his book: “Exercise causes your brain to release endorphins, neurotransmitters that act on your neurons like opiates (such as morphine or Vicodin) by sending a neural signal to reduce pain and provide anxiety relief.”[5] By inhibiting pain from being transmitted to our brain, exercise acts as a powerful antidote to the pain caused by rejections and breakups.

Meditation

Jon Kabat Zinn, a doctor who pioneered the use of mindfulness meditation therapy for patients with chronic pain, has argued that it is not pain itself that is harmful to our mental health, rather, it is the way we react to pain. When we react to pain with irritation, frustration, and self-pity, more pain is generated, and we enter a never ending spiral of painful thoughts and sensations.

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In order to disrupt the domino effect caused by reacting to pain with pain, Kabat Zinn and other proponents of mindfulness meditation therapy have suggested reacting to pain through nonjudgmental contemplation and acceptance. By practicing meditation on a daily basis and getting used to the habit of paying attention to the sensations generated by our body (including the painful ones and by observing these sensations nonjudgmentally and with compassion) our brain develops the habit of reacting to pain with grace and patience.

When you find yourself thinking about a recent breakup or a recent rejection, close your eyes and pay attention to the sensations produced by your body. Take deep breaths and as you are feeling the sensations produced by your body, distance yourself from them, and observe them without judgment and with compassion. If your brain starts wandering and gets distracted, gently bring back your compassionate nonjudgmental attention to your body. Try to do this exercise for one minute and gradually increase its duration.

With consistent practice, nonjudgmental acceptance will become our default reaction to breakups, rejections, and other disappointments that we experience in life. Every rejection and every breakup teaches us great lessons about relationships and about ourselves.

Featured photo credit: condesign via pixabay.com

Reference

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