Was It Really Necessary for Scientists to Train This Spider to Jump on Command?

It sounds like something that’s right out of an arachnophobe’s nightmare. Scientists in the UK have, for the first time ever, successfully trained a spider to jump on command.

The spider has a name – Kim – and it seems like training her wouldn’t be all that difficult since she’s a species known as a royal jumping spider. But researchers at the University of Manchester wanted Kim and a few other royal jumping spiders to leap across various lengths on a platform, which they wouldn’t do naturally.

Although other animals can be trained to do tricks by using food as a reward, this method doesn’t work well with spiders that only eat once a week. Instead of using rewards, the researchers repeatedly moved the spiders from the jumping platforms to the landing platforms. Kim was the only one who eventually figured out how to do this on her own.

You may be wondering, as you break out in goosebumps from head to toe, why in the world these scientists felt the need to teach spiders to jump on command? Was it simply out of boredom? No, they did it so they could record the spiders’ trajectories using ultra-high-speed videos and 3D CT scans.

“The key thing we had hoped to identify with this study,” coauthor Russell Garwood, a paleontologist, told Popular Science, “was whether this species used hydraulics in addition to muscles to power its jumps.”

The researchers found that from a standing position, Kim could jump more than six times the length of her body. Humans can only jump one and a half times their body lengths.

“For long distance jumps, the power limitations of the spider may force it to use the distance optimum trajectory,” the researchers wrote in the study, published this month in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. “For shorter jumps, it can choose from a range of available take-off angles, and because these short jumps are typically used for prey capture, a rapid low trajectory may well be the best choice.”

The researchers also discovered that Kim was particular about when she jumped. “She never missed,” study author Mostafa R.A. Nabawy told National Geographic. “She didn’t jump unless she was confident she could make the jump.”

Kim probably has the ability to jump even farther, Nabawy said, but her vision prevents her from doing so.

Unlike other arachnids, jumping spiders have four big eyes along with two smaller eyes on the tops of their heads. These extra eyes give them a sharper sense of vision, enabling them to figure out distances and determine the proper angle and timing to jump across them.

As for whether regal jumping spiders use hydraulics to make their leaps, the researchers were unable to get a clear answer from studying Kim. Garwood told Popular Science that future studies may shed more light on whether the spiders have this ability.

The findings from these studies will be used to help create micro-robots that can jump and fly, which sounds almost as creepy as training a spider to jump on command. But it’s really not creepy at all, since armies of those teeny robots may someday be used to kill real, live crop-killing insects, perhaps making pesticides obsolete.

Happy nightmares, arachnophobes!

Photo credit: University of Manchester

70 comments

Monica C
Monica Collier3 days ago

I don't quite understand the point of teaching a spider to jump

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Cindy S
Past Member 3 days ago

sick

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Marija M
Marija M3 days ago

You are right Jinny, I like you comment.

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JinnySITEISSUES L

Now only if scientists could train humans to be compassionate on demand. Thanks for posting.

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Naomi D
Naomi D4 days ago

interesting

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Phillip A
Phillip A4 days ago

Fascinating study of these remarkable creatures!

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Janis K
Janis K4 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Donna T
Donna T4 days ago

thank you

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Joan E
Joan E4 days ago

Nicole, you don't sound like you have arachnophobia if you think spiders are adorable. I could be wrong, but it sounds to me like you have the opposite of arachnophobia (fear of spiders.) You may have arachnophilia - the love of spiders.

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Janet B
Janet B4 days ago

Thanks

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