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Is a Spider's Web a Part of Its Mind? | Deep Look

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 Biology   |   Psychology   |   Science
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Orb weaver spiders build exquisite spiral webs not only to catch insects, but to extend their senses. Once they shrink-wrap their prey with silk, the nearly blind spiders can store them for later, and read their web's strands as a kind of memory map to guide them back.

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DEEP LOOK is an ultra-HD (4K) wildlife and nature series created by KQED San Francisco and presented by PBS Digital Studios. See the unseen at the very edge of our visible world. Explore big scientific mysteries by going incredibly small.


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The more than 48,000 spider species create a wide variety of web styles. There are over 4,000 different species of orb weaver spiders alone; these are the eight-legged spinners that create the famous spiral-shaped webs.

Anyone whos watched orb weavers in action has seen them use their exquisite creations to deftly ensnare flying insects. Impressive as this, the webs function as much more than deadly traps.

Webs play an integral role in everything an orb weaver does. When spiders are hungry, they can tighten the webs strands and even adjust its size and shape, depending on what size of prey theyre in the mood for. These species are only able to see light, dark and a little movement, but they are somehow able to quickly navigate their webs, pinpointing their unlucky victims and binding them in silk, a meal saved for later.

Because they can do so much with such tiny brains, some researchers think orb weavers use their webs as a form of extended cognition, outsourcing advanced mental tasks like problem-solving and memory. For example, once they have killed and wrapped their prey, a spider can store it for later, then easily find it again. They dont need to remember every single thread they have spun just a few previous steps. By using their webs to do some of their thinking for them, orb weavers may be preserving precious brain power for other necessary and complex tasks like capturing prey.

--- Where do orb weavers spiders live?

Orb weaver species live everywhere on planet earth except for Antarctica and the Arctic. As long as there is abundant food (i.e. insects) and a place to build their web, you are likely to find an orb weaver.

--- What other kinds of spider webs are there besides orb webs?

In addition to the signature spiral-shaped designs made by orb weavers, spider webs come in various other styles, such as tangles (aka cobwebs), funnels and sheets.

---+ Read the entire article on KQED Science:

https://www.kqed.org/science/1969661/is-a-spiders-web-a-part-of-its-mind/

---+ For more information:

The work of Thomas Hesselberg
http://www.thomashesselberg.com/

Hilton Japyasss work on extended cognition in spiders
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10071-017-1069-7

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#orbweaverspiders #spiders #spiderwebs

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