Study: Hairs on a Spider's Body Function as Individual Ears

By Veronique Greenwood | December 15, 2011 12:33 pm


Spiders are covered with fine hairs that can detect the faint movements of an enemy creeping closer, or a prey insect moving nearby. Scientists had long thought that these hairs functioned like the hairs humans have in our ears, which each tremble in response to a specific frequency and have to work together for us to hear sounds. But a new experiment suggests that each individual hair on a spider is capable of responding to a whole spectrum of sound, thus acting as an ear all on its own. As Dave Mosher writes at Wired:

The hairs responded best to sounds between about 40 Hz, a low rumble of bass, and 600 Hz, a car horn (humans ears can detect between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz). That they picked up such a wide range of frequencies at all could overturn previous assumptions about how trichobothria [as the hairs are called] work.

“They operate like band-pass filters or microphones, not like the hairs in a human ear,” Bathellier said. In effect, each hair is its own ear that filters out background noise and zeroes in on biologically relevant information, such as an unwary cricket’s hopping or a spider’s sneaking.

How all these tiny “ears” work together, though, is still a mystery—further studies will have to investigate how the hairs’ vibrations affect spiders’ nervous systems.

Read more at Wired.

Image courtesy of timsnell / flickr

  • Spider Joe

    Thanks for reporting this cool fact about spiders! However, the article title is incorrect (not “each hair on a spider’s body”). The study only pertains to a small fraction of the hairs found on a spider — just the trichobothria hairs. These hairs are usually sparsely distributed on spiders, even on otherwise hairy spiders.

  • Spider Joe

    Much better title! Thanks for caring about accuracy!


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