Ron Hoy, a neuroethologist from Cornell, visited UCSD last week and gave a great talk on jumping spiders. These are, apparently, the most speciose variety of spider – that is, they account for ~13% of all species of spiders! More importantly, they are a bit like cats. They will slowly stalk their prey before pouncing on them, sometimes successfully, sometimes less so (I’m sorry, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on youtube trying to find better videos but cannot; if any of you know of one, please post it!). One of the fun facts about them is that they cannot move their eyes but rather move their retinas inside of their head! In fact, spiders have lensed eyes like vertebrates, with a four-layer retina that each codes for a different color including our red, yellow, blue, as well as UV. The spiders are intensely social, with coloration reminiscent of the peacock. They even do complex little dances to attract mates, as seen in the video above, and this is one of the main things that Ron Hoy is studying.
One of the difficulties of doing what neuroscientists love to do – sticking electrodes in poor insects – is that they move through internal pressure. Rather than using tendons and muscles, they flex their legs through internal hydraulic pumps. This makes the animals difficult to record from as cutting them open releases the pressure… He’s making recordings but he won’t tell us how. In C. elegans, we have a similar problem. Try to cut ’em open and they explode. We solve the problem by making tiny little incisions so that one neuron can pop out and we can record from that. It doesn’t work great, but it works. I wonder how Hoy does it?
Ron Hoy also has an awesome video on social communication in mosquitos.
Here’s a video of a jumping spider being adorable.
If you want to see more, Peacockspiderman has quite the collection of movies on youtube. They’re all awesome!