Super Sensitive Spider Sensilla

Researchers measure the responsiveness of a spider’s slit sensilla, sensory organs embedded in the exoskeleton that sense vibrations.

Jef Akst
Jef Akst

Jef Akst is managing editor of The Scientist, where she started as an intern in 2009 after receiving a master’s degree from Indiana University in April 2009 studying the mating behavior of seahorses.

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Oct 28, 2011

Brazilian wandering spiderWIKIMEDIA COMMONS, TECHUSER

You can’t tiptoe past a spider this Halloween. It will detect even the tiniest vibrations, according to a new study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

An adult female Cupiennius salei, the Central American wandering spider, has more than 3,000 slit sensilla, or strain sensors, on its body. Located mostly on the legs and near the leg joints, the sensors can detect vibrations in the surrounding substrate, helping them to catch prey even in the dark of night.

The sensilla are comprised of minute parallel slits. Nearby vibrations result in physical forces that compress and stimulate the sensors. Clemens F. Schaber of the University of Vienna and his colleagues used powerful optical and micro-force measurements and found that the sensory organs responded to forces as small as 0.01 milliNewtons—less than half a percent of the body weight of a...

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