Perception in jumping spiders

Our current research is focused primarily on perception and learning in jumping spiders.  Jumping spiders have eight eyes.  The two principal eyes act like tiny telephoto lenses, while the secondary eyes have a wider range of view and are thought to act more like motion detectors. We are trying to understand what sort of visual information is gathered by each eye, and how that information is integrated together in the spider's tiny brain. Here are some papers that focus specifically on perception:

Spano, L., S. M. Long, and E. M. Jakob. In press.  Secondary eyes mediate the response to looming objects in jumping spiders (Phidippus audax, Salticidae).  Biology Letters.

Bednarski, J. V., P. Taylor, and E. M. Jakob.  In press.  Optical cues used in predation by jumping spiders, Phidippus audax (Araneae, Salticidae).  Animal Behaviour.

Long, S. M., S. Lewis, L. Jean-Louis, G. Ramos, J. Richmond, and E. M. Jakob.  2011.  Firefly flashing and jumping spider predation.  Animal Behaviour 83:81-86.

Baker, L., E. Kelty, and E. Jakob.  2009.  The effect of visual features on jumping spider movements across gaps.  Journal of Insect Behavior 22:350-361.


Some of the tools we use include video images, which luckily spiders respond to as if they are real:

We also use a techniques established by other labs of reversibly masking different types of eyes with paint.  Here, the spider on the right has its principal eyes masked, and it runs away from an approaching cricket. The control spider on the left caught its cricket right after the clip ended.
An exciting development in our lab is a spider eyetracker.  Eyetrackers are often used to study human perception by examining how we explore visual images: what draws our attention, how and when we shift our eyes from one area of the image to another, etc.
The principal eyes of jumping spiders are moveable: each principal eye has a boomerang-shaped retina at the back of a long tube inside the spider's cephalothorax.  This tube can move around and thus direct the retina at different areas of the visual field. Back in the 1960's, Michael Land developed an opthalmoscope-like eyetracker to monitor eye movements. Decades later, an international group (Duane Harland and Robert Jackson from New Zealand; Jannick Rolland, Cristina Canavesi, and Eric Schiesser from the University of Rochester; Stingray Optics in New Hampshire; and Skye Long and I from UMass) worked together to design, build and test a new eyetracker. 
We can now watch the movement of the principal eyes in real time as spiders explore images. See a sample video below:

Here is an older video from an earlier version of the eyetracker.  You can see how Skye Long's work improved the image quality.

To see more examples of our animals and experiments, roll over the images below to see the pop-up text.
  • Phidippus princeps. Note the large principal eyes and their neighboring anterior lateral eyes.
  • Phidippus audax.
  • Spiders prefer "faux fireflies" (crickets next to an LED) next to a flashing light, off light, or steadily glowing light.
  • Skye Long demonstrates eyemasking of a spider for the fillmmakers of the documentary "Super Spider." We use eyemasking to help us determine the functions of each eye.

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