The Loh Down On Science

Spidey Sense of Sound

Spider man, spider man, listening as precisely as a spider can!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, and the acoustic wonders of spider hairs.

Spiders and insects use teeny hairs called trichobothria to sense what's happening in the world. These bristles mean survival--they signal when prey approaches, or predators prowl nearby.

A team of European neurobiologists wanted to understand how the hairs help. So they got some spiders, put 'em in a cage, and started filming individual hairs, up close and personal.

The researchers, using some handy equations of motion, found that each trichobothrium acts like its own little independent ear, capable of hearing a wide range of frequencies. Perhaps you won't be surprised to learn that those same frequencies can be generated by an approaching spider-snack.

I know what you're thinking--spiders’ "ears" use hairs to hear, and so do mine!

But sorry, Peter Parker, that's not the case. Human ear-hairs are tuned to selective frequencies, but spider hairs hear the whole symphony.

Call it what spiders need to surf the web.



The Loh Down on Science, online, at lohdown.org. Produced by 89.3 KPCC and the California Institute of Technology, and made possible by TIAA-CREF.

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