Things I Don’t Know…

… about spiders.

Many months ago, the kind people over at Things We Don’t Know asked me to write a guest blog post for them. Due to unforeseen circumstances and being very busy on my internship, I unfortunately haven’t been able to write anything for them yet.

Things We Don’t Know (TWDK) focusses on, well, just that – explaining things that scientists don’t know (yet), in an accessible way for everyone to understand. So of course, my post will be on things we don’t know about spiders! I do intend to still write the post for TWDK, so this is going to be my way of getting my brain warmed up, thinking about some of the things I don’t know about spiders. Some answers may well be out there in the literature that I haven’t encountered yet, so please leave a comment if you know any answers! And some things I know are out there, and I just haven’t got round to reading about it yet. It’s a good exercise for me to figure out where the gaps in my knowledge lie, and what I should look up next! I will also try answer these questions in future blog posts, once I have the time to trawl through the literature again.

Things I Don’t Know About Spiders:

  1. How they make their webs. Now, this is something I know is out there – there’s a section in one of my textbooks, for a start. In my PhD so far I’ve been focussing on how spiders run across ground, so although webs are what people immediately associate with spiders, I haven’t learnt much about it yet! One thing that people (particularly my Grandad!) keep asking is how they start the web off – often there is one tiny strand of silk joining the web to a far-away tree or lamp post, and to be honest I don’t know how they do it – just jump I suppose!
    Araneus spider in a web (from pdphoto.org)

    Araneus spider in a web [from pdphoto.org]

  2. How they breathe. Again, this is something I know is out there, I just haven’t got round to look it up yet. After a very brief Google, it seems that different species breathe in different ways. I know there’s a species called a Diving Bell Spider that can live and breathe underwater for hours – now that’s impressive! I will look this up in detail soon, because again it’s a question that a lot of people ask me. 
    A pair of diving bell spiders underwater (L = female, R = male) [Credit: Norbert Schuller Baupi on Wikimedia Commons]

    A pair of diving bell spiders underwater (L = female, R = male) [Credit: Norbert Schuller Baupi on Wikimedia Commons]

  3. What exactly it is that makes people scared of them. Lots of people are arachnophobic. Hundreds of people. No arachnophobe I’ve met can really put their finger on why, though it seems to be a combination of their fast scuttling and sudden stops. It’s definitely something to do with their motion, though what exactly it is I don’t know! Perhaps an arachnophobe reading this could give me an answer? I’ve never been bothered by spiders so perhaps this is something I’ll never know…
    Jumping spider, Heliophanus sp. She's just here because I love jumping spiders. Seriously, how could you hate this little lady? Look at her big eyes and eyelashes. So cute. [Credit: Lukas Jonaitis]

    Jumping spider, Heliophanus sp. She’s just here because I love jumping spiders. Seriously, how could you hate this little lady? Look at her big eyes and eyelashes. So cute. [Credit: Lukas Jonaitis]

  4. How spiders move with missing legs. This fourth and final item in my list is of course the subject of my PhD. This question is loaded with lots of other questions, really – how they move in terms of their gait, their energetics, and how efficient they are at escaping predation and catching their own prey with missing legs. This has been touched on in the literature, particularly the latter questions looking at how they survive with missing legs, but what I’m really interested in is their biomechanics – how does the way they’re ‘built’ allow them to cope with such a drastic thing as losing a leg? How exactly can they still run, and run quickly? Do they spread their limbs out in time over the course of a stride cycle to compensate, or do they run in  the same way as always but with a gap? Do the answers to these questions depend on which leg is missing? 
    A Fishing Spider with two legs missing. [Credit: Flagstaffotos]

    A Fishing Spider with two legs missing. [Credit: Flagstaffotos]

As you can probably tell, my TWDK post is likely to be on this last point, as there are lots of things we don’t know about how spiders move without their full compliment of limbs!

This has been a really useful exercise in figuring out the things I need to read up on, particularly because people ask me lots of questions once they know I study spiders, and I feel like a let-down when I can’t answer them! I will write posts on the answers to #1 and #2 when I get back into PhD-land and have a bit more time to read about them. And I know that during the remainder of my PhD I know that more questions will emerge than answers…

Thanks for reading – if you have any answers, or any questions of your own, just leave a comment!

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2 thoughts on “Things I Don’t Know…

  1. good read dude! actually made me realise theres tonnes of things i’d like to know about the spider world! im no arachnophobe so can’t help with why people are scared, but my stepdad is so i’ll ask him haha! hope your well sister! big love xxx

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