Depending on who you ask, spiders are either cute critters worthy of curious examination or deadly pests who deserve immediate execution.
But one thing’s for sure: If you’ve ever been to an Aussie bush doof, you’ll notice there’s always plenty of eight-legged punters gadding about.
Why do our arachnid friends love your tent or sleeping bag so much?
Robert Whyte, arachnologist and author of “A Field Guide to Spiders of Australia”, has a simple answer:
“If you want to attract spiders in the bush all you have to do is drive out there and turn a diesel engine on and they’ll come in droves. They’re really clued into vibrations, and, if you think about rock or dance music with the strong beat, it’s like a signal to the spiders.”
“They use the beats of their own bodies to communicate. They can tap their legs on the ground, or they wave their legs in the air as a way of courtship between the males and the females. It’s all to do with the beat,” he said.
Researches at the University of Cincinnati have further examined the possible link between sound and spider mating rituals.
Alexander Sweger and Prof George Uetz, found that North American wolf spiders use leaves to transmit vibrations to potential partners and that these vibrations have a “purring” acoustic element.
“Our work has shown that the leaves themselves are vital to the use of acoustic communication in this species. Males can only produce the sounds when they are on a surface that vibrates (like a leaf) and females will only respond to the sounds when they are on a similar surface. When we remove the vibration and only provide the acoustic signal, females still show a significant response and males do not, suggesting that the sounds produced by males may play a part in communicating specifically with females,” Mr Sweger said.
So, even though spiders don’t have ears, their research suggests that both pleasing sounds and their corresponding good vibrations are part of the North American wolf spider’s mating ritual.
We eagerly await further research into how other species of spider use vibrations to communicate with potential suitors.
In the meantime, if the thought of being surrounded by thousands of chatty spiders kills your vibe, perhaps it’s time to reconsider your aversion to our eight-legged neighbours.
Mr Whyte feels that spiders have been misrepresented in the public eye, and aims to set the record straight.
“Fear of spiders is only caused by other people, not by spiders. It’s the ‘fear and disgust’-face by a parent or another person when you’re young that teaches you not to like spiders.”
“I wish that people knew how little we know about them because only one quarter to one-third of all of the species in Australia are scientifically described,” he said.
In his work, Mr Whyte has travelled around Australia, documenting and discovering new and exciting species.
And, he says you don’t need a PhD to do the same.