Eleanor Morgan serenades spiders.
“I am staring at a spider that is a few inches away from my neck,” she writes. “Her front leg is stretched out towards me on the silk bridge that connects us and I can see her eight eyes, which look like black pinpricks, arranged in two rows above her jaws.”
With a spider silk thread tied around her throat, she connects herself to the web of a bulbous gold spider. She hums, and waits for a response. Sometimes it doesn’t respond. Even worse, sometimes it does. If it likes what it hears, the spider creeps closer.
Though Morgan’s singing isn’t bad, the spiders aren’t drawn by the sound.
Despite their six to eight eyes, most spiders can’t see very well. Instead, they rely on web vibrations to know what’s around. When a mosquito gets caught in the sticky trap and struggles to free itself, the female spider knows where it is from the vibrations. Similarly, the only way for a male to get a female’s attention is by tapping on her web.
The spiders in Morgan’s experiments can feel the vibrations coming from her voicebox. And for whatever reason, it beckons them.
“With a thread attached to the throat of a singing person on one side and the web on the other, this of course introduces vibrations into the web,” said Friedrich Barth, who researches spider neurophysiology and sensory biology at Vienna University. “Provided these have characteristics reasonably close to the patterns of biologically relevant web vibrations, the spider will localize and approach the source.”
Actually, spiders have always been drawn by human music—though rarely on purpose. Morgan cites the story of an 18th century French prisoner playing music in his cell, who looked up to find himself surrounded by an eight-legged audience; a choir at a girls’ boarding school in 19th century Kensington, England regularly lured thousands of spiders from corners and rafters with their singing. When the music ended, the spiders went home.Sarah Fecht, writing for Scienceline.org. Full text here.
Sarah told me about Eleanor Morgan's work with spiders and their webs - fascinating.