Researchers document every step of building a spider’s web – sciencedaily

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Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have discovered precisely how spiders build webs using night vision and artificial intelligence to track and record every movement of the eight legs as the spiders work in the dark.

Their creation of a playbook or website building algorithm brings a new understanding of how creatures with brains a fraction of the size of a human are able to create structures. of such elegance, complexity and geometric precision. The results, now available online, are expected to be published in the November issue of Current biology.

“I first became interested in this topic while I was birding with my son. After seeing a spectacular canvas, I thought to myself: “if you went to a zoo and saw a chimpanzee building this, you would think it was an amazing and awe-inspiring chimpanzee”. Well, it’s even more amazing because a spider’s brain is so small and I was frustrated that we didn’t know more about how this remarkable behavior happens, ”the lead author said. Andrew Gordus, behavioral biologist at Johns Hopkins. “Now we’ve defined the whole choreography for website creation, which has never been done for animal architecture at such fine resolution. “

Spiders that weave webs and build blindly using only the sense of touch have fascinated humans for centuries. Not all spiders build webs, but those that do are part of a subset of animal species known for their architectural creations, like nest-building birds and pufferfish that create elaborate circles of sand. during mating.

The first step in understanding how the relatively small brains of these animal architects support their high-level construction projects, is to systematically document and analyze the behaviors and motor skills involved, which has never been done until present, mainly because of the challenges of capturing and recording actions, said Gordus.

Here, his team studied a spiky orb weaver, a spider native to the western United States that is small enough to sit comfortably on a fingertip. To observe the spiders during their nighttime web-building work, the lab designed an arena with infrared cameras and infrared lights. With this setup, they monitored and recorded six spiders every night as they built webs. They tracked millions of individual leg actions with machine vision software designed specifically to detect limb movement.

“Even if you record it on video, it represents a lot of steps to take, over a long period of time, for many individuals,” said lead author Abel Corver, a graduate student in web design and neurophysiology. “It’s just too much to go through each image and mark up the leg points by hand. So we trained machine vision software to detect spider posture frame by frame so that we could document everything the legs do to create an entire web. “

They found that web-making behaviors are quite similar between spiders, so much so that researchers were able to predict which part of a web a spider was working on just by seeing the position of a leg.

“Even though the final structure is a little different, the rules they use to build the web are the same,” Gordus said. “They all use the same rules, which confirms that the rules are encoded in their brains. Now we want to know how these rules are encoded at the neural level.”

Future work in the lab includes experiments with psychotropic drugs to determine which circuits in the spider’s brain are responsible for the various stages in the construction of the web.

“The spider is fascinating,” Corver said, “because here you have an animal with a brain built on the same fundamental building blocks as ours, and this work could give us clues as to how we can understanding the larger brain systems, including humans, and I think that’s very exciting.

The authors also include Nicholas Wilkerson, a former undergraduate student at Hopkins and currently a graduate student at Atlantic Veterinary College, and Jeremy Miller, a graduate student at Johns Hopkins.

The work was supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program and National Institutes of Health grant R35GM124883.

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Material provided by Johns Hopkins University. Original written by Jill Rosen. Note: Content can be changed for style and length.

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