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Spiders are much smarter than you think (knowablemagazine.org)
381 points by samizdis 72 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 212 comments

A couple years ago I had an experience with a spider that entirely changed my perspective on them and most insects, and now I make a conscious effort to help them as much as possible, instead of kill or even repel them.

This particular spider kept running back and forth between my monitor and a window, and when it'd get to my monitor, it would wave its front legs at me. If I moved to the left, it would run across to the left side of the monitor and waves it legs again. If I stood up and moved closer to it, it would run back to the window, turn around, and waves its legs at me. From watching YouTube too much, I was always under the impression that this was either a sign of aggression or a defensive stance.

But after a few times of going back and forth like this, I realized there were approximately 50 baby spiders around a light by the window, which had been closed since the previous day. Normally this would be a nightmare for me (I've always had a fear of spiders), but after a while, I had this crazy notion that the spider was trying to get me to open the window. So I did, and it immediately ran to the babies, wrapped a single strand of silk around the old webbing, and started dragging swaths of the babies' webbing toward the window.

I have no idea if the room was just dry and they needed some humidity, or if the food had been too scarce for too long. Whatever it was, that parent spider was in full blown panic mode, and managed to effectively communicate their problem to a human. I haven't killed any spiders or insects since (aside from a few particularly asshole-ish mosquitos), and actually keep small water dishes in my bathroom for two spiders who've now lived with me for nearly a year. If any babies hatch inside and get close to me, I use my phone's flash to guide them back to a corner with a light on -- they are seemingly always drawn to the brightest light source.

Spiders are incredible creatures, and I deeply regret not realizing that sooner.

I had a similar experience with a spider who had made an egg sack in a precarious spot along our back door that was definitely in hazard's way. I got a stick and a leaf and tried to detach and move her setup to a nearby spot that would be safer. She did not like that.

At one point in the move, she got left behind and I ended up with just the egg sack to move. You could feel the panic and protective instinct in her movements. I got her onto the leaf and reunited with her eggs on a nearby plant and she quickly went to work finding the right spot and securing her sack to the underside of one of its leaves.

I watched her there for a while in her new location, and there is absolutely more than just instinct at play.

I didn't grow up liking spiders much, but gardening in particular has given me a new perspective on them. One measure of our garden's health is the amount of spiders we see, keeping other would-be pests in check.

I had to do the exact same thing once -- the mother ran off as I tried to gather her and the sac into a box -- and you could see both the panic as she watched the sac being taken away, and the relief when she was reunited.

As a counterpoint, how could you possibly see panic on a spider's "face?"

Panic isn't merely a facial expression. It is body language, actions and may be some other things.

There was no mention of "face", I suppose it is about the whole body expression.

We are all alive in the same way

That's not really a given. Maybe arguable for mammals, but arthropods? What about sponges? Fungi? Trees?

Not OP. I think the brain is more a receiver of consciousness than a generator, and there are many types of receivers, beyond neural cells.

Trees will form a network with the cooperation of fungi, to exchange information and nutrients among each other. Plants will grow better when they are planted with companion plant, or cultivated in guilds (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guild_(ecology)

Funny that you mention this consciousness thing.

A few years ago I've been out, seeing blackberry bushes in full bloom, ripe with berries,

many already dropped to the ground. One could even smell them from dozens of meters away.

That was on a former industrial/commercial zone in the harbour, everything torn down,

leveled up a few meters with massive earthworks, compacted, graded.

Since a few years, no activity. Barren and bare execpt for a few weeds and bushes,

some colorful wild flowers, thistles(also very colorful!) some small birches. "pioneer plants" AFAIK.

Anyways, hords/squadrons of all sorts of insects swarmed around those bushes,

really darkening the air and making a loud buzz/hum/drone.

But strangely no birds.

Whatever, I wanted some of those blackberries, too!

So I thought about what I intended to do in terms of movements, actions, and so on, all visually,

and thought about projecting that outwards in crystal clear HYPER-IMAX-3D-whatever, for every single step,

slowly stepping into the swarm, thinking the same way about every hand movement, exactly from where I'd pluck the next one,

thinking don't sting or bite me, stay away from my face, there is enough for all of us...

And none have stung or bitten me, also they left me alone, with the exception of a few landing on my bare arms,

and resting there for a few moments, before taking off again.

But it seemed mostly unnecessary, because most of them seemed to be in a holding pattern,

waiting for space on the ground, to gorge themselves there on the juices of the fallen berries.

So I only needed to watch my steps.

The berries were exceptionally good :-)

I took about 1,5 to 2kg back home in foldable plasic bags, which I always have in my backpack for shopping.

But before doing that, I took my time, squatting down, and watching the bees, wasps, bumblebees, flies, whatever, flying erratically,

like they were drunken from the juices of the fallen to the ground berries, away, maybe a hand width above the ground.

That was their pattern, coming in high, going out low, like drunken. Still no stings or bites! :-)

One of the weirdest experiences I've had.

I'm still doing that with my cats, which I got later. Not speaking,

but thinking visually about things I'd like them to stop, and why,

what can be dangerous when I'm working in the kitchen, or soldering electronics,

how I like the ways they move, and so on.

We mostly communicate in silence.

Typical "catness" stubbornly ignoring everything aside, it feels like it's working in about 80 to 90%.

No stress with "herding cats" here. (3 of them)

Maybe we lost this stuff, the ability to perceive things like that, or it has been selectively bred out of us,

by the environments we created, which in turn shape us.

Back to topic (somehow):

Long before I got my cats, I had a 'stray' calico coming to me for about a month, from who knows where.

One night, while she was resting on a four times folded sleeping bag I'd layed out for her on my bed, I heard her loudly meowing.

No clue about what was going on because out of sight. I went there, and she stood on her hind legs, looking afraid,

slowly walking backwards into the farthest corner on her hind legs, meowing miserably.

At first I didn't get what was going on, then I saw a small spider, brown white, whith pale green backbody,

not larger than a pea, whole spider maybe an inch at maximum with fully extended legs.

The cat was terrified of that spider! Even when I've put the spider into a glass and thrown it out onto the balcony.

When I came back she still warily sniffed the spot from where I put the spider into the glass, meowing annoyed.

Took some time to soothe her.

I've never seen, or heard of cats being afraid of spiders before, nor I can imagine how that should work,

since outdoor cats should have plenty experience meeting them in the wild?!

Humans … or I should say, modern humans have a bias towards consciousness structured as language. So yeah, it doesn’t normally occur to people that mind-to-mind contact can come in other forms. Among the (obviously non-techie) friends and communities who experiment and cultivate skills like these, using a visual channel for communicating with animals, plants, and insects is a thing. One example I heard, was a shaman telling me how she communicated to her dog that they will be gone a few days. Dog don’t understand clock time like we (modern humans) do. Dogs do understand the rising and setting of the sun though. Three of the rising and setting sun would be three days.

In the visionary shamanic community, we might call these intelligences animal, plant, or insect teachers.

Spiders have a special, very profound medicine. Many beings are afraid of them, and moving through that fear is part of the test to learn from the spider teacher. There is something similar with snakes. The venom is transformative.

I noticed too that you talk about pioneer plants and you seemed to have skill at foraging. I’ll make a bold assertion that’s out of place for this forum: I think that a civilization that are organized around local food resiliency and sovereignty using such things as permaculture design can free up the time for humans to really explore consciousness. It requires time and awareness and not better machines and technology.

Feel free to contact me by email if continue this conversation interests you. Talktohosh on gmail.

>I watched her there for a while in her new location, and there is absolutely more than just instinct at play.

One could also conclude the opposite. What we perceive as concious thought or emotion is just instinct.

As a parent I can say that a lot of urges in parenting come from somewhere deep and intuitive, rather than as a result of some higher level erudition on the situation.

Still, the urge for care ones young, while not necessarily very - cerebral? - at least creates a feeling of familiarity and connection - ie. empathy. When this empathy comes across from an arthropod to a higher mammal it's still humbling and awe inspiring, even though it might tell more of our autonomous nature than the intellect of the arhtropod.

It feels like there’s some interplay between instinct/emotion and intelligence/decision-making in the behaviours we’re describing, which I felt was a sign of awareness or consciousness.

I wouldn’t say what I experienced was much more than instinct and making a new web, but the emotional response of a mother protecting its young was relatable across very different species, which is useful for building empathy and respect.

The examples in the article are much more interesting from an intelligence standpoint though.

> One could also conclude the opposite. What we perceive as concious thought or emotion is just instinct.

Pretty sure this is what doctors said as their justification for not using anesthetic on babies during medical procedures.

"Oh, they're just crying and screaming because baby, duh"

We now look back at that as being quite a barbaric practice/way of thinking.

But babies don't logically reason that crying is how to express their pain, it is instinct. The error was downplaying instinctive behaviors as separate from the total consciousness. Basically equating all instinctive action to the knee reflex test: harmless reactions that our bodies happen to do, rather than the essential part of our psyche that most instincts are.

"Conscious thought" is an undefined term applied to non-verbal subjects, except where sequential reasoning is demonstrated, and then becomes a metaphysical morass. Emotion is well-defined and interpretable from behavior, and is not the opposite of instinct, but a pathway it operates by.

At that point isn't it a bit a matter of semantics? I do agree with your point though. I think the way we think of instincts is far too simplistic and lacks an appreciation for how complex, adaptive, and context-aware instincts are

This is something I’ve thought about quite a bit. IMO, emotions are probably the drivers for “instinct”; are nature’s way of getting organisms to do things.

> You could feel the panic and protective instinct in her movements.

This comment reminded me of a great book I read called Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves.


There's something that gets to me anytime I see animals with their offsprings.

A documentary about octopuses last moments in life, really shook me. It might be interpretation/anthropomorphism but anyway, apparently after laying eggs, the octo mom will breath out water (warmed by her body) around them. The process lasts a while and when she's exhausted she spends the remaining energy to swim as far as possible and die. The theory being she'd rather not attract predators with her corpse. A final step in sacrifice.

I too now try to redirect life forms to where they can live better. I used to seriously arachnophobic but nowadays I can manage grabbing a box or a long piece of paper to move insects around or outside if needs be.

You’ll also love this radiolab episode then: https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/radiolab/articles/octom...

I don’t want to spoil it but it’s quite a story.

Fascinating. Thank you. I'll think about this for a few days, it feels.

And on topic, I hate small house insects. They bother the hell out of me. So, spiders I treat very well and while not welcoming them in, when discovered I'll find them a new home outside rather than kill them. But then, I don't live in Australia..

Hah, it is actually the same in Australia. It helps to know that the bigger spiders are usually more friendly. The problem then is more that they can be quite quick. Which can be terrifying when trying to capture them to move them outside.

Thanks, I'll probably fetch it tonight.

A lot of spiders have spread with humans and, depending on your environment, would probably not be able to survive outside. I usually ignore spiders I see in my house. I figure for every spider that's probably at least 3 less other bugs. One time we even let a daddy long legs care for its babies and watched as the hundred little eggs finally matured and hatched. Most of those babies probably died, but those that survived have probably helped keep the population of many other bugs down

I’m generally very lenient with DLLs but others freak me out, especially when one drops suddenly from the top.

The Octopus Teacher on netflix is highly recommended, if you haven't watched it yet. Octopuses are amazing creatures!

I was thinking of this exact documentary when reading the comment above.

It was fascinating how the octopus seemed to have trust and opened up to him.

Disagreed with his reasoning when she was being attacked - if she’s a friend, help her. Sitting back and recording her getting hurt because he didn’t want to “interfere with the natural processes” didn’t make much sense.

oh yeah, for programmers, their neural structure is obviously fascinating

I used to let spiders live freely in my house, until one time I wanted to go to bed at night and noticed dozens of black spots on the bed cover. I looked up and saw hundreds of tiny spider babies on the ceiling. From then on, whenever I see a spider in the house I get rid of it. Sorry...

Don't get me wrong, I still find families of baby spiders to be absolutely terrifying in every way, and it takes every bit of my willpower to fight the urge to remove them from existence. But at the end of the day, the key word is family. It's a group of living things, with parents that apparently have the emotional capacity to care about them.

Hopefully when you say "get rid of it," that means gently coaxing them into a box and putting them outside.

You are assuming very human or even mammalian qualities and constructs like "parents/family/emotion" to invertebrates that have no problem cannibalizing their offspring and mates. If they were big enough they would kill you and your family without any hesitation or emotion.

If they had "no problem" cannibalizing their offspring, they'd quickly go extinct! In reality, cannibalizing of offspring only occurs in particular circumstances - if conditions are poor enough that most of the young won't survive anyway, for example. In which case their instincts kick in to cannibalize as a way to recoup the energy and try again at a better time. If conditions are right there will instead be a strong instinct to protect the egg sack / young.

> If they were big enough they would kill you and your family without any hesitation or emotion.

That's how predators act. Yet, we have no lack of love for birds and cats.

Anyway, don't group spiders on the "have no problem cannibalizing their offspring and mates". They are much more complex than that. Besides some vertebrates also have no problem doing that.

Humans in desperate situations will do similar things, sacrificing their children for resources: https://edition.cnn.com/2021/11/01/asia/afghanistan-child-ma...

Yes, and "Rugby players eat their dead" (true story, 1972 plane crash, subject of several books, etc. [1])

Just because you can't readily see the emotion, does not mean it is not there.

True to say that 'we don't know if they regret having to eat their young/mates', but saying they don't care is just as much making assumptions as saying they do regret it, merely switching the polarity.

It is also possible that eating the mate/being eaten is the most loving thing it can do, giving not only the DNA but also their entire stored energy for the good of the offspring. Or, they might be terrified. Or, they might not be sufficiently sentient to notice. Either way, what we know is that we don't know (tho there may be someone who's studied it enough, IDK).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uruguayan_Air_Force_Flight_571...

I've always heard that story as a soccer team, and I'm just now realizing it was probably because someone down the line didn't want to explain Rugby to Americans in the 70's.

The largest spiders are almost universally docile toward humans, so your own assumption doesn't really hold water.

sorry, what? The claim that "parents/family/emotion" are constructs which are limited to (higher) mammals rests on the assumption that these constructs are dependent on i.e. a highly developed cerebral cortex-- and that somehow the cortex is the seat of emotions.

Given that neurotransmitters (adrenaline?) are so instrumental to regulating emotional state, that claim seems highly unlikely.

The most plausible possibility is that all multi-celled beings have some sense of family and parenthood.

And here with the spiders you are presented with evidence of such.

Does a mother spider feel distress with quite the same level of nuance as a mother human? Perhaps not. Is she clearly distressed? absolutely.

Many humans do that to other humans, so I do not see how different we are from them.

Oh come on.

No species can come even close to humans in killing others without any hesitation. Have you even seen the documentary Earthlings?


I think the horrifying thing about humans is we do understand what we’re doing and choose to do it anyways. Spiders kill things to eat them to survive. Humans do it for much more complicated or arbitrary reasons.

I can't speak for spiders but there are plenty of animals that do horrible things for reasons other than eating and surviving. Seals come to mind (with what they do to penguins). Also cats.

At the very least, mammals will kill for sport and for status. The biggest difference with humans is scale.

> we do understand what we’re doing and choose to do it anyways

Seems like you glossed right over the most important part of their comment.

Our whole intellectual/scientific/technological culture is founded upon our ability to focus our attention.

And the flipside of focus is blindness. Ignorance.

One thing is focused upon, seen and controlled with vast depth and clarity. While 1000 other things are obliviated away.

That obliviated part. There's a lot of bad stuff going on there. (And a lot of good stuff too, no doubt)

Attention isn’t binary. Stubbing your toe is a great way to pay a lot of attention to something you normally ignore, but conversely we are paying attention to the lack of pain without it diverting any effort.

Intellectual/scientific/technological culture is really the mind sitting around going nothing critical is going on let’s focus on something arbitrary. And if nothing critical happens for long enough you can start to assume that’s just how things are.

Yes, distraction is a thing. And oblivious focus is also a thing. Both are aspects of attention.

Oh please. Animals don't even have the empathy to outright kill a prey before eating it and will have it dismembered, bleeding out and alive no problem.

Nature is beautiful but let's not pretend it's caring or loving. Cats play with their food. Spiders liquefy their preys, melting them from the inside out. Crabs eat their newborn offspring. Do any of these feel bad at all about it? No.

Find me an animal who went vegan because of empathy.

> Cats play with their food

oh my cat don't even eat the animals it brings back inside the house. Birds, baby rabbits (these ones survives for it can catch them but not kill them), lizards by the metric ton, spiders, mice...

It brings them back to me and let them in the living room.

Sometimes I get two animals a day.

I don't know: maybe the cat understood we do the cooking and somehow thinks we're going to cook all it brings back.

I remember an old blog where some coder who also had a relentless cat (I'd say at least 10 years ago) set up face a webcam and face recognition for its cat inside the pet door and wouldn't let the door open if the cat had something in its mouse.

> I remember an old blog where some coder who also had a relentless cat (I'd say at least 10 years ago) set up face a webcam and face recognition for its cat inside the pet door and wouldn't let the door open if the cat had something in its mouse.

I've got to find that blog post! Luckily my cats don't bring back half a dozen animals a day anymore but I'm still tired of chasing squirrels and mice around my house once a week.

That last mouse instead of mouth was appropiate/funny I guess!

> Animals don't even have the empathy to outright kill a prey before eating it and will have it dismembered, bleeding out and alive no problem.

Not every animal is like this. Most spider never kill animals they can't eat if they're not a threat to them. If one such creature falls into their web, they just release it.

>Spiders liquefy their preys, melting them from the inside out

How else are they gonna eat? They don't have teeth with which to chew their food like we do.

>Cats play with their food.

Many cats can be sadistic selfish assholes, but somehow many humans love them to death because they're cute and fluffy.

Human industrial slaughter where animals are trussed up and dismembered and skinned while still conscious (granted due to failures in the stun mechanism, but there isn't much push to monitor assembly line failures) would beg to differ. Or how about male chicks being liquefied and fed back to the chickens?

Add to that the kosher/halal slaughter.

This idea that all humanity is 'above' base animal behavior is as ridiculous as stating that all animals lack behaviors that we may label as empathy.

When I was a kid, one day my dad took me to the nearby "meat shop" where they use to slaughter goats in a nearby room of the shop. My dad's aim was to prepare me to go to the meat shop on my own in the near future. What I saw had a very deep impact on me and I decided to not eat meat and fish after that. It took me one and a half years to stop eating meat and fish. What I saw in that shop that day was chilling. Two goat kids were slaughtered in front of their mother(the goat). The goat kids had by now realised that going inside the room meant death, so when the shop owner tried to take the first goat kid into the room the goat kid refused to enter the room and the owner kept pushing and forcing the goat kid inside the room. Seeing this the customers gathered around the shop started laughing. And the goat(the mother of the goat kid) couldn't look at her kid being taken to the slaughter room and was crying for help looking at the laughing customers(I had never heard a goat make such loud and chilling noises)! The same repeated for here second kid. And finally the goat herself was slaughtered after sometime.

Experiencing this horror, I decided there and then that I will not eat meat and fish again to satisfy my tastebuds. It has been years since I left eating meat and fish. But even now when I see non-vegetarian dishes(at home or other places) I have urge to eat non-veg. It is very difficult to leave eating non-veg; it is like addiction. But everytime I have that urge to eat non-veg, that scene from the meat shop plays in front of my eyes. It is very painful.

Another scene that I regularly see in my local area every morning is when cattles are transported in a truck to a near-by mass slaughter house. The trucks are enclosed from all sides with just a slit open for the cattles to look outside so that they do not panic in the metal enclosure. Looking at their eyes one can easily see that they are trying to understand where they are and what is happening. And everytime I see that I say to myself, these unsuspecting defenceless animals are going to face a gruesome death within an hour just to satisfy the appetite of some humans!

>trussed up and dismembered and skinned while still conscious (granted due to failures in the stun mechanism, but there isn't much push to monitor assembly line failures)

There is absolutely push/incentive to monitor and correct for failures in stunning. The stress response it entails in the animal makes for poor quality meat, or even inedible meat that would have to thrown out.

Also, stunning is followed by slaughtering and draining. There is no situation in industrial production in which an animal would be dismembered and skinned alive.

Painlessly slaughtering cattle isn't trivial. You want to destroy their brains as close to instantly as possible, but their brains are tiny and their skulls are large, so it really requires care to make sure the animal is instantaneously killed.

I would completely support requiring direct expert supervision of every single animal slaughtered. This is the norm at the smaller operations, but something like 80% of US cattle are slaughtered at giant Chinese owned factory stockyards.

Forget the actual slaughter. They live their entire life in a torture cage, smeared in excrement, ears filled with the screams of their suffering family.

We are clearly demons.

Why put empathy on a pedestal, it's clearly only there to facilitate group cooperation, because group cooperation is advantageous.

People don't like hearing truth they don't like, so they downvote.

> skinned while still conscious because the stun mechanism could, eventually, fail.

And all those grand pianos falling over the poor cat again and again...

Oh sorry, we were talking about the real life, or in terms of a cartoon possibility?

Please drop the antisemitism

Exactly, they don't have empathy. We have conscience yet we all these. So who is lacking empathy emotion tell me. We do much worse than any animal can do. Again go watch the docu to see completely to know what we do before replying. Humans are worst thing in universe because we do all these having conscience.

Not every human is vegan like you.

It's worth mentioning to check the species first before putting them back out. Some spiders are house spiders, and can't really survive outdoors. I generally put them into my garden shed or, if possible, into the loft instead, but most of the time, I just leave them alone.

I've always wondered about that, did they evolve after the invention of houses?

My knowledge on it is pretty basic, but as I understand, house spiders are adapted to living indoors: climate, food supply, and so forth. It's probable that over time spiders adapted to live in caves or tree hollows probably found it quite easy to move into dwellings, and stay there, to the extent that now some species have their entire life cycle based around dwellings.

[Edit: I googled around, and this was an interesting article from Rod Crawford, the curator of arachnid collections at the Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture, Seattle talking about house spiders being traced back to Roman times. https://www.burkemuseum.org/collections-and-research/biology... ]

No, they evolved to become synanthropic. That's usually a good deal for a species unless humans change their ways. The black cellar beetle was very popular in Europe living in preindustrial era because it lived in wooden buildings and is now endangered because these buildings are becoming rare.

Generally they can live just fine in the wild somewhere, and human indoor climates merely replicate their natural habitat. Odds are without shelter or clothing or other artificial methods of controlling temperature you'd be pretty screwed wherever you currently live too.

You’re Vin Diesel’s kinda person.

I get rid of them, too. By gently escorting them out a window. And, like you, I apologize to them and wish them well.

A tip if you are scared of spiders: Trap them in a glass, then slide some hard surface underneath. You can now move the spider (like out a window) while holding it trapped with the lid.

This has actually eliminated much of my arachnophobia, since I find myself studying the spider, safely confined inside the glass before letting it out. (This is actually one way they treat phobias clinically, a kind of desensitization exercise)

I used to have extreme arachnophobia, like strip-naked-run-screaming-if-I-found-a-spider-on-me level arachnophobia. A long time ago I was prescribed propranolol for PTSD by a psychiatrist specializing in trauma. I hadn't even mentioned my arachnophobia to her or any clinician I had seen at that point. It helped me a lot of social situations, but the effect was pretty subtle.

Anyway, one day, I was hiking with friends, and someone pointed out I had a bug on me. I picked it up and realized it was a spider -- and then it dawned on me that I wasn't afraid of it at all. It was one of the most thrilling moments of my life to hold a spider without any fear at all. I started seeking out spiders to handle them. Even after I stopped taking that medication, the effects lasted. Nowadays I love spiders.

I learned years after stopping taking it that this medication has been studied both for PTSD and phobias -- specifically arachnophobia.

Your comment made me think to tell this story because I pretty much always attempted to bring spiders outside rather than kill them despite my fear. My rational side knew that most spiders are harmless, sensitive, and highly beneficial creatures. Plus I always hated killing anything and still do. But the exposure didn't actually reduce my fear of them noticably. And that experience is borne out in the research -- exposure therapy doesn't seem to be enough for most people

Apparently propranolol is effective because it works on memory consolidation -- more or less it helps with overwriting old negative memories (more specifically the emotional charge that accompanies the memory) with newer positive ones.



People with arachnophobia should remember that 95% of the extant spiders are totally unable to pierce the human skin. Fangs too weak or short to reach blood capillaries and made any real damage, even if they would be poisonous doesn't matter. Those that coevolved with spider-eating monkeys are the problematic ones.

I couldn’t care less whether the spider is dangerous or not.

It’s more the erratic, jittery movements of spiders and their multitude of fast legs that’s off-putting.

Especially when you’re taking a dump in a dimly-lit outdoor toilet and notice there’s a hand-sized huntsman spider a few inches from your knees. I have never sprinted so fast.

So there's still 5% of spiders that can pierce your skin and inject stuff? That's not very reassuring

According to this report, you have roughly 1 in 50 million chance of death by spider.


So I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

Death doesn't have to be a reason to dislike being bit by a spider. A bite from a tiny little brown recluse is no laughing matter.

True. A bad bite, anyway. Most bites are not bad. The Wikipedia article is informative (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_recluse_spider#Bite).

My understanding is that most people never see a brown recluse, even within their natural range. Those who do see them probably don't recognize them most of the time, because they're not especially big, because from a distance they look pretty much like any other brownish spider, and beause neither the human nor the spider generally want to get close enough to make a positive identification possible.

But it so happens that I've seen a lot of them, so I offer some trivia about that.

I saw hundreds when I was 12 and my father and brother and I were hired by a neighbor to tear down a shack on his property. It so happened that there were hundreds of recluses in the shack. I know because I was nerdy twelve-year-old with a fascination with wildlife and field guides, and I had a pretty nice little field guide with a good image and description of brown recluses.

I've seen many more of them in the house I live in now. I've been in this house for about fifteen years now. There are a lot of brown recluses living in it. I've seen many dozens of them over the years. The last time my daughter came to visit us, she found four or five of them during the week she was here. She's a little arachnophobic, but not too badly, and the experience hasn't diminished her enthusiasm for visiting We expect her to be back in a few months.

According to Wikipedia and other sources I've read, they rarely bite--generally only when they're being mashed against someone's skin hard enough to frighten them but not hard enough to kill them. When they do bite, it rarely causes any symptoms. When it produces symptoms, they're usually minor--most often sores on the skin; less often some necrosis of the skin.

The bite _can_ cause much more serious symptoms, but that's rare.

I had a bite once living here that might have been from a brown recluse. My doctor was skeptical, because the bite didn't look quite right. It produced a small, tender sore and a really large inflamed area around it. I didn't notice it at all until a relative noticed it on my back. That's consistent with reports of brown recluse bites: most often people don't feel the bite when it happens. Their fangs are quite small--usually they aren't able to pierce fabric--and the venom itself is painless; it's the later effects--if any--that become painful.

At any rate, I and my relatives seem to have reconciled ourselves to living with a large infestation of brown recluses.

Yeah, as I mentioned in my post, I knew this rationally but it didn't help my phobia. If phobias could be rationalized away I suspect many if not most people who have them would overcome them fairly easily

Much quicker and more convenient is a spider catcher like this: https://www.aliexpress.com/item/1005001356203377.html

With that I can easily pick them up and drop them out the window or whatever. You can do it at well over arms' length too. It doesn't seem to harm them, as there's a space within the grabbing cage that they get directed to. Small spiders can crawl out between the cage bits but usually stay on the end long enough to move them elsewhere. Big spiders are fully caught.

That video ad is something else:

> "It's fast, easy and eco-friendly!"

It's a piece of plastic that will be shipped halfway around the world, to do what could just as well be done by a glass and a bit of cardboard.

It might be fast, easy and particularly convenient, but "eco-friendly" it most certainly ain't.

My favorite is a vacuum. Just use it with the handle extension mode and bare floor setting. When you get near them, due to the air movement they try to hold on tighter to the wall and don’t move, which makes it easier.

I just pick spiders up in my hand and throw them out. But I live in the UK. I would be hesitant to do that if I lived in Australia!

Wrong link?

Looks right to me. A green and white plastic spider catcher. What do you see?

I am always scared of injuring the spider with the slide method. I have hit upon a method which is much simpler, and rather satisfying to execute.

Wait until the spider is stationary. Put the glass on its side with the mouth directly in front of the spider. Then - tickle the spider's behind. Invariably the spider will panic-run forward, right into the glass. Lift the glass and there you have it! Spiders can't climb the smooth sides so no lid necessary.

I have found that persuading the spider to enter the glass without tickling its behind to be much more challenging for some reason. They sense the trap, or at least that it's a sterile dead end. But startle them, and they'll always run forward in a straight line.

This could be useful for that [1]. It has a thing to catch the creature and a built-in magnifier. The video showing how to use it is amusing--those two kids have great expressions.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Carson-Quick-Release-Catching-Magnifi...

House spiders usually cannot live outside. So you're also most likely killing them by escorting them outside (I do this too btw, because I don't want to crush them, but I know that outside is likely not better for them).

I'm the resident "bug remover" at the office and at home, since they really don't bother me. I do it, but feel bad about putting a spider outside in the middle of the winter.

No problems from me! My policy is generally live and let live. But once they invade my space I take measures.

Unfortunately, my wife is phobia level scared of spiders. So now if they bother her, by extension that is bothering me, and so I take measures to make sure they don't bother her.

But I motorbike commute every day with webs around my dash/handlebars. I wish my little spider bro good luck every ride.

Better to keep house lizards instead of spiders for pest control. House Lizards don't muck up the place.

Your bed is very likely already crawling with all kinds of organisms, spiders at least keep mosquitoes in check.

most of those babies will probably die on their own anyways. If they do survive to adulthood it's only because they managed to kill some other bugs. So it'd be a net of less total bugs in your house if you just let them be

Mothers love is the primal force of the universe. Not just mammals (including humans, of course but read up on other vertebrates such as crocodiles and birds). Another poster mentions gastropods (octopus).

You see it in plants. Trees preferentially share of resources with their offspring.

Thanks for sharing an amazing story. I'm not surprised to see motherly love in spiders.

mother trees not only pass resources but also, what can only be described as, "chemical memories"


We are all in this together.

It’s SO cool when you have one of these experiences with a wild animal. A tiny little moment of true connection and communication. Thanks for the story.

I keep several tarantulas and a few other spiders, and they are absolutely fascinating! Your description of the spider waving its arms and running from side to side makes me think it was likely a jumping spider. This group of spiders have large eyes and don't build webs to catch prey, and are really cute!

This is a bit more elaborate behaviour than what I have observed from our (small) spiders here, but as a general rule, I don't do anything to spiders in my apartment as well. They keep their territory clean of other insects and do not get into my way, so I like keeping them. Unless the spider is really large, aggressive or poisonous, I do not get why so many people are afraid of them either. Perhaps that the Australian Exception :)

Just don’t eat them, you should be good

We have an influx of Joro spiders in our area (N/Central GA), and they are absolute nightmare fuel. I can't have them in my porch or where people are going to be; their webs are big and sticky, but I'm having a hard time bringing myself to killing them.

Interestingly the Joro spider is invasive to Georgia now, but their ecological impact is not known. They eat an invasive species of stinkbug however that the native spiders do not eat so they may actually end up having a net positive impact on the environment despite being invasive

It’s amazing how they are all over now with the first spotting being around 2015.. They look crazy but as far as I know they aren’t harmful to humans.

Everything I've read says they are not harmful; they can bite, and will if they need to, but will get away if they can.

I've killed a few, but I think I won't any more. Not necessarily because of this article, I just hate killing things.

I never knew of them before this fall until a friend of mine went on "removal" spree at his place, and now I've seen a lot more of them in my own yard.

One issue is we also have migrating hummingbirds, and the webs are big enough to foul them up. The spiders won't eat them of course, but I also can't have our hummingbirds dying over getting caught so I'll be knocking down webs in their area if I have to.

There is a Russian (Eastern European? Slavic?) superstition against kill spiders. You can kill insects all day, but you don’t kill spiders. You just leave them be.

I'm Russian and I don't remember anything like that, so even if it is Russian it's fairly obscure

Thanks I’ve been wondering.

Yes, killing spiders is a bad omen in Lithuania. Usually they're simply thrown out. Not sure how many people does this nowadays but it stuck with me.

A fascinating story, thanks for sharing. If you haven’t already, check out the novel Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky.

Thanks for the great story, that's sound an incredible experience!

I'm quite certain that E.B. White's wonderful Charlotte's Web is based on the author's similar observations.

This is such an incredible story! It also made me emotional. Thanks for sharing it.

That’s all well and good until you live somewhere with a large population of brown recluse spiders, and a healthy fear of them can keep you from losing a limb.

One of my school friends walked a different path from me and became a paramedic. He used to have to go to homes in "socioeconomically challenged areas" in order to revive people who had taken substances that they should not have taken - and also other things which were even less good. On one of these trips in a drug hell hole he saw a tank with a spider in it, and he realised that these people were likely mistreating it. So he asked if they wanted it and after a short conversation bought it off them for a nominal amount.

So - he had a tarantula. I had never seen or met a thing like that and I was fascinated. It was very shy at first - it spent all day everyday hiding, possibly because of fear of drug addicts. But eventually it got a bit more confident. The thing was, it recognised and remembered individual humans. When it first met you or saw you it would hide. If you were calm and Kit (the paramedic) was calm with you it would come out and allow you to stroke it. This might take a few visits. But, once you had won it's confidence it would come right out and say hi as soon as you were in the room.

I came to believe that it was self aware, and that it had a mental model that included social interactions and trust. It was just a belief, as it's really hard to see the anecdote and experience I have as data, but that's what interacting with it made me think. I thought it was as smart as a cat, or maybe even a dog.

I've seen similar behavior from garden spiders that I've taken inside before winter. They are afraid at first but eventually warm up to me and let me pet them. Spiders are very cool creatures. An analog of human intelligence, as unique as octopi.

How do you care for a garden spider over winter? The yellow garden spider (argiope aurantia) is probably my favorite spider and I love when one takes up residence in my garden throughout the warmer months. I never considered caring for one when it gets too cold outside and then releasing it when it warms up.

I just put it in my apartment near my computer. They usually make a web from the ceiling and hopefully catch a few things. To be honest, some may die from starvation, because I don't actively buy them any live insects to eat, but I consider that somewhat of a better fate than freezing to death. They usually go missing after a couple months, I never really know if they die or they just end up migrating into a crawlspace or leaving once the winter clears up. I wish them the best though :-/

Talking about Portias, I recommend reading "Children of Time" by Adrian Tchaikovsky, it's about the process of uplifting spiders and how humans re-establish contacts with them. Another great book about smart "spiders" is "A Deepness in the Sky" by Vernor Vinge, my favorite in the "Zones of Thought" series.

I can also recommend "Children of time", it's a really good sci-fi book. There's a sequel called "Children of Ruin", but I can't comment on it as I haven't finished reading it.

It's very rare for a sequel to be better than the first, but thats definitely the case with children of ruin

I didn't know how the concept of universal consciousness could be expanded on much more after the first book, but wow was i wrong.

Then, allow me to recommend it :)

Portias are also talked about in Echopraxia, the Blindsight sequel by Peter Watts.

One of my favorite sci-fi books of all time. What makes it so good is how the author manages to get you to see the world through the (many) eyes of the Portia spider, and evolve it they get uplifted.

The use of ants is pure genius.

The sequel, Children of Ruin, is likewise compelling, but lacks some of the finesse and mystique of the first book.

Idk how it compares to the aforementioned books, but there is also a series of fiction by Colin Wilson “Spider World: …” (1987+). It was a great read when I was a teenager.

The Tower is a novel in which humankind has been reduced to slavery and outlawry by giant spiders in the far future.

One of my favorite books and highly recommend.

That was really good. As a kid I also enjoyed Spider World by Colin Wilson (a very YA take on smart giant spiders).

A Deepness in the Sky is so good. The spiders are all experienced through the radio, which makes them more relatable in a way.

Somebody had to mention Children of Time. It's a really good book

Children of Time is fantastic, a really unique take on sci-fi

I saw it as a really fantastic riff on David Brin’s “uplift” series. In fact, Tchaikovsky calls this out explicitly in naming one of the (IIRC) habitat orbiters Brin.

I get tired of reading from webpages like this.

  - Spiders are much smarter than you think
  - some text
  - some text
  - Shutterstock image with a big description
  - ...
Context switching is hard for the brain. Even in readabilty mode I get substracted by the image descriptions.

It's a pitty because it's a nice article.

Personally I just closed the tab when the SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER dialog obscured the article. I didn't expect to get much value from the content anyways so can't be bothered to deal with their crap.

uBlock Origin allows you to filter custom elements on webpages. I can zap those elements and next time I visit that site I won't have to put up with it. It's game-changing although I wish there was a way we could share custom filters with others so I don't have to do this for every site each time

Oh, but there is a way to "share custom filters with others" :) https://github.com/gorhill/uBlock/wiki/Filter-lists-from-aro...

There is also a cool site that aggregates custom lists and allows you to search for specific filter-lists and narrow down choices by using filters on top. You can then subscribe to them directly - most are hosted on github. Just keep in mind some of them haven't been updated in years - you can preview them, and check their last update - in most of cases anyway. https://filterlists.com/

BTW there are filters specifically designed to remove newsletter-signup messages, popups, popunders, as well as general "annoyances" :)

do you have the Annoyances filters enabled? most of them are filtered on my end

there is also this you can enable with 1 click if you've got ublock already: https://github.com/yourduskquibbles/webannoyances

And then they just keep saying over and over:

- Spiders are smarter than you think

- Wow are they smart

- Here’s a scientist who says spiders are smart

- A lot of people don’t think spiders are smart but they are

They should just cut everything in the article before the part where they finally start describing some smart things the spiders do.

I guess the article is written for spiders, they have no problem with context switching since they are so smart.

Agreed, but be grateful it doesn't have an obnoxious and hostile cookie consent form, or is full of ads mixed with the content. This is actually a relatively enjoyable website compared to similar ones in this category.

SEO has really ruined the internet

This is not about SEO, this newsletter and you may also like serve no purpose for this. It's user acquisition.

SEO gets you in the door, the newsletter gets you coming back, and you may also like pays the bills. It's all related.

Advertising has really ruined the internet

And many other things. It biases the consumers, which has futher repercussions on the economy.

they are! once i found a baby spider in the jacuzzi and just let it stay there out of laziness. it set up shop in one of the water jet holes. it gradually grew and started catching the real enemy, the mosquitoes.

as a “thank you”, once every couple of days i’d catch a fly and feed it to him. i’d tap the electric fly swatter on the jacuzzi wall to drop the fly. this tapping sound quickly became sort of a pavlovian affair. as soon as i’d tap the fly swatter, he would rush out of the hole and grab its treat!

here’s the video


I once had a huge spider problem. Spiders all over the deck, etc.

Called an exterminator, and he laughed. He said you don't have a spider problem, you have an ant problem. The ants inhabited the wood interior of the deck, and the spiders were eating them.

The ants completely hollowed out the deck, though they left the paint alone, so it looked fine. I was horrified that I could just push a screwdriver through it. It had to be completely replaced.

When I sawed it off of the house, it collapsed into a heap of wood chips and sawdust. I didn't load the lumber into a truck, I shoveled it in. I'm amazed the deck never collapsed under my weight.

My deck is now iron and concrete. No more spiders.

I also had yellowjackets everywhere. In the house, around the house, everywhere. The exterminator told me the problem was the wood roof shingles, as yellowjackets liked to nest in them. Replaced the shingles with asphalt ones, no more yellowjackets.

I tend to leave the spiders alone because they eat the other annoying insects.

As soon as I opened that article, I pressed CTRL+F and searched for "jumping spider". I knew it had to be about them!

I'm not sure I would consider them "smart", but they are definitely exhibit an awareness of their surroundings that is not as obvious in other arachnids or arthropods. It's fun to watch them explore their terrain, stalk and catch prey much larger than they are, and of course jump relatively large distances like pros.

In our house the rule is all fast and web spiders are removed. The jumping spiders and the big lazy floppy guys that hang on the ceiling are allies. They are non-aggressive and clearly eating something that shouldn't be in the house. My wife keeps walls of plants, it's basically a botanical greenhouse on the south side of the house. So a lively ecosystem.

Here in AZ we get a fairly big jumping spider with a red on the top abdomen, we call 'em red butt spiders. No one harms the red butt spiders! If one is down at person level I like to gently interact with it. If you slowly move a finger near it, it will rotate and examine, and then scoot an inch away. Not too fearful. Usually a single one wins out, and will live with us until fall. A familiar housemate. We also get fairly big tarantulas, maybe 4" across the span. (Outside) They don't strike me as intelligent, not like jumping spiders. I always stop and scoot them off the road when I'm biking. I have seen a tarantula hawk hauling one much bigger than itself in my yard, off to its doom.

Like you, on reading the title of the article, I thought, I bet it's about jumping spiders!

They're relatively smart in that they can quite intelligently navigate their environment to best get at prey that might otherwise kill them.

Really, all animals are relatively smart (ignoring individual differences in a species), in that they have specific skills and abilities that allow them to be most effective for their biological makeup, and purpose in their respective ecosystems.

We humans are no different in that regard ~ we are relatively smart, in that our biological makeups grant us leanings towards skills and abilities that other animals don't have.

Reminds me of an observation that humans developed imagination(seeing that is unseen) from avoiding threats of snakes which were the most dangerous predator to early primates. It required sharp visual skills to distinguish snakes from its ambush, and also imagination (second vision) of snake's potential ambush.

I’ve also seen the video/gif of quickly changed pictures, where after viewing you’re asked to estimate the percentage of spiders and snakes in it. People tend to 50%+, overestimating by an order of magnitude. We are evolutionarily aware of these little fuckers and that trait didn’t come for free.

ps. Can’t find it anywhere, sorry.

Another qurious work describing non-vertebrate cognition was the recent document "My octopus teacher". As a person without deep experience of them and while octopus are known to be smart that document kind of rubs in your face what it means to have such level of talent when they live in their natural habitat instead of an aquarium pool performing party tricks.

And imagine if they could live for 80+ years instead of only 3 - 5. Their unusually high intelligence may be related to things like continuous RNA editing. If all of their adaptation mechanisms could evolve to occur over a much longer timespan, who knows what they might become capable of.

Human intelligence develops over a long period; imagine if it all had to be squeezed into 3 - 5 years.

If you enjoyed "My octopus teacher" you might also find this book interesting:

"OTHER MINDS: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life" Godfrey-Smith

The last common ancestor between humans and octopus was a flatworm. So their intelligence has evolved comletely separately from ours in a totally different environment. So they are truly an alien intelligence, here on earth.

Does anyone know what the theory is about octupuses being solitary? It seems like a strange place to end up for highly intelligent creatures. (Although, now that I think about it being smart and specializing in/in charge of your own private hunting ground doesn't really sound like such a bad way to live.)

Sociality is not the only (and probably not an initial) driver of the evolution of intelligence in animals. Ecological and particularly foraging competency in less predictable environments is another and likely more primary stimulator for intelligence.

Coordinating complex movements is another one that appears to drive intelligence.

Vulnerability in a hostile environment. Together with foraging and coordinating complex movement plans, it is hypothesized that predation pressure when combined with the loss of their shell drove cephalopod intelligence. Trading defense for agility and int would also have provided a competitive advantage when competing for prey.

The book I reference above says that octopus intelligence is a bit of a paradox due to their short life span and lack of sociability. Pretty much all other intelligent animals are long lived and social.

I have a rule, if they're too big, or in a bad position, they go outside, otherwise I leave them, I prefer spiders to mosquitoes

I leave daddy-long legs in the house because they are no issue to humans (just leave unsightly webs) and can prey on spiders I'd rather not have around - red backs, huntsman, etc. Not sure if they eat white-tailed spiders too, but hopefully - we get a few of them.

Anything roaming near the kids' bedrooms gets treated more harshly.

I once had a basement full of cellar spiders and killed them all. Literally the next day the basement was FILLED with much more annoying more mobile spiders. One crawled into my water bottle and I didn't realize until I pulled off my tongue.

Cellar spiders are now my best friends. I didn't realize until then, but you can actually pick them up by hand and they don't bite if you're gentle.

I thought my kids not to be afraid of them and they handle them regularly. My wife is another matter and she has a very distinctive spider scream that I can hear from anywhere in the house.

Yes, I have noticed this too. Despite my best intentions and full knowledge that we have none here which can hurt me, I am still shit phobic about spiders. The daddy longlegs are a protected species in my household since I first realized their stunning efficiency as resident security corps.

My wife was terrified of spiders. She want to a hypnotherapy session along with a arachnaphobic friend some years ago. She wasn't completely cured, but has been much better ever since (now calmly asks me to remove my "8 legged friend" instead of freaking out). I think the friend also became significantly less phobic.

The portia genus are incredibly smart. I believe it is because its vision system, comparing to other spiders. Watch some videos on youtube and it chills how calculated the hunt is.

They seem to be in a class entirely unto themselves. There is something about the way they move and observe the world that gives them an apparent intellect beyond any other 'bug' I've seen. I used to keep bees and they are amazing in both their individual and collective ability, but it's hard to interact with them. Portia and other in the Salticidae family are almost like little dogs or something. They watch you, seem to make eye contact even, and generally are tolerant of handling and attention. Really cool little critters.

Predictably, the BBC and David Attenborough have some amazing videos about them:

Hunting a spider - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDtlvZGmHYk

Hunting a mantid (you have to watch the end) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wKu13wmHog

Crazy mating ritual - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_udvnFCl7s

Another intense mating ritual - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQbScg3r1oQ

They let you pet them - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPo8MG1pJ8w

All of this with a brain of approximately 100,000 neurons.

Huh, interesting. That "Hunting of a spider" clip almost follows part of the intro sections in Children of Time 1-to-1. Feels like someone took 'inspiration' in someone else's homework. I wonder if it was BBC or Adrian Tchaikovsky who came first.

Oh, well. It is a really cool clip nonetheless.

hint: BBC

Spiders can also get high on marijuana. It's true!

They have the same thc-receptors in their brain as we do.

It follows that they can get baked, enjoy an expanded consciousness and benefit from hallucinogenic insights just as we humans do.

So get a spider high today.

Not only marijuana!

Spiders on LSD:


Interesting... I reckon they need a much smaller dose than us though, wouldn't even a single puff lead to an uncomfortably intense trip?

> “Jumping spiders are remarkably clever animals,” says visual ecologist Nathan Morehouse, who studies the spiders at the University of Cincinnati. “I always find it delightful when something like a humble jumping spider punctures our sense of biological superiority.”

I just find this notion bizarre, like we're all overblown ignoramuses strutting around thinking: 'I'm soooo much better than x pathetic creature!', and deserve to be taken down a peg or two. A really odd way to see things, most people I know are fascinated by nature.

As long as these spiders don't develop ICBMs I am sure a lot of people wont take thems seriously at all. It has always saddened me how many people just treat animals like lesser beings ready to be killed, tortured and controlled.

Reading about animal cruelty makes me sick - we should be more like guardians than overlords. I suppose this will never sit well with a majority of people, especially if they have other things to worry about...

Agreed, and then there are titles like the article's with a similar over-assuming sentiment. I always read them like eg "Spiders are much smarter than the writer of this piece thought"

It is probably just as well that spiders don't work in groups. A colony of thousands of venomous spiders working together is a terrifying thought (cf the novel "Children of time").

Some spiders do.[1] They protect their own and viciously attack outsiders. People are terrified when they see a single massive huntsman spider--imagine 300 angry ones coming at you because you offended one of their friends.

And related to the main topic, I've sat bored at work and watched a jumping spider prowl around the office. It was initial terrified of me, and would face directly towards my face and follow my head around to see what I was doing. When it eventually realized I wasn't a threat, it continued prowling. I watched it often stop, gauge a distance, and squat a few times trying to find the perfect angle and location from which it could successfully make a jump. Sometimes getting it perfect, and sometimes failing, pulling itself up by its web, and trying again. Learning through trial and error seems to definitely cross the bar of intelligent life for me.

It also later directly approached me (after having earlier avoided me) and started crawling on my hands as I typed.

Felt almost like meeting a thumbnail sized cat.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delena_cancerides

Thumbnail sized cat indeed. They also chase laser pointers

Meanwhile in Texas, Tetragnata guatemaltensis is having a lot of fun in the "burning fly's" international cross-stitch knitters meeting...


Spiders are often evil in cartoons so children usually do not like them. My children did not watch tv much but still were vary (sometimes afraid) of spiders.

I had them look at them when they work, in forests or sometimes at home and told how useful they are. And suddenly they were happy when a spider lived in they room.

They even managed to convert their friends and recently, some 10 years later, I witnessed how one of said friends noticed a spider on the ceiling and smiled.

If the stereotypes of spiders change, so will their level of acceptance.

Jumping spiders are amazingly fun creatures! Even the smallest ones have personalities and most are curious. Very good eyes that see everything. They catch flies with blazing speed.

What do we consider smarts?

For example, with some examples there, like pretending to do a mating ritual for another group of spiders in order to lure the female out, this seems like it's something built in to their neural networks through thousands of years of evolution. It doesn't seem significantly smarter than the other group of species doing mating rituals themselves. They just have a neural network that reacts to certain input with this output that evolution created and honed through all this time of them being around such input and this output causing a better survival performance.

I didn't see anything specific that could've indicated they could learn new things in new situations, so it seems like built in neural networks that come to them rather than them having special smarts to learn new things like humans have.

> Although spiders can’t literally count one-two-three, the research suggests some jumping spiders have a sense of numbers roughly equivalent to that of 1-year-old humans.

I wonder about conclusions like these. I don't know about 1-year-old humans, but it's understandable that they can measure strength levels depending on the amount of whatever they are observing and if situations change they should recalculate their new decision. I just don't think it's a sense of numbers, it would be more like some sort of amount of input (pheromones, image, whatever) that makes them pay attention that something has changed.

And all in all it seems odd conclusion to compare sense of numbers based on that to 1-year-old humans. Trying to compare it to something, but the way they use those "skills" doesn't really make comparative sense.

Human social interaction is also something built into their neural networks through thousands of years of evolution too. They have a neural network that reacts to certain input with this output that evolution created as well.

Of course, biological neural networks are self learning too, so the output gets tuned and optimized in situ just a little. But there's really no difference in that sense.

Sure: you shouldn't anthropomorphize lest you end up drawing completely wrong conclusions; this was drilled into me as well.

However, a strictly mechanistic view of something that is clearly software++ (biological neuroplasticity) might be overcompensating a bit too far in the other direction again.

I guess what I'm trying to say is try to treat each organism as their own thing. Don't overestimate or anthropomorphize; but don't take an over-linearized super-mechanistic view either, since that can lead you astray just as much.

Yeah, agreed, but I think one of the highest differentiations for whether someone or something is intelligent is how it learns about new unseen concepts and can use intelligence to adapt to a completely new environment.

E.g. if that spider species was put to a completely different environment and during its lifetime it could learn to adapt to some new species mating ritual and fake out their female as well.

This would make me consider the title to be valid "spiders are much smarter than you think".

Portia spiders do demonstrate trial and error learning, quoting the abstract of [1]:

> All species from the jumping spider genus Portia appear to be predators that specialize at preying on other spiders by invading webs and, through aggressive mimicry gaining dynamic fine control over the resident spider’s behavior. There is evidence that P. fimbriata, P. labiata and P. schultzi derive signals by trial and error. Here, we demonstrate that P. africana is another species that uses a trial and error, or generate and test, algorithm when deriving the aggressive-mimicry signals that will be appropriate in different predator–prey encounters.

It turns out that the species with more variation in encountered prey types are more likely to rely on search, varying over possible patterns until a response is received. Other papers show their ability to learn generalizes beyond mimicry of vibrational patterns. They are also capable of deriving and maintaining situation specific attack routes and plans.

I'll also argue that a fully instinctual repertoire, even without learning, should count as intelligence if flexibly deployed. Consider: despite an inability to learn or adjust, a Nash equilibrium approximating poker bot or an Alpha Zero neural network can be described as encompassing a deep instinct of the game that enables intelligent action selection.

[1] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10164-010-0258-5

> What do we consider smarts?

I read one of the papers were they experiment with Portia spiders (it might have been shared here on HN months ago). The paper actually went in great details to catalogue the kinds of intelligence being studied (it didn't invent anything, it was a good recap of the literature) and to design experiments to fit the portias in this hierarchy. It was quite good.

The issue is that we have millions of evolution for living beings, and even us in 2021 aren't the same that were running from Dinosaurs, so it is only natural that other species also enjoy some kind of intelligence, naturally they aren't writing books, however it is a scale from DNA programmed behaviours to some level of self conscience, ability to learn or even develop some kind of culture that is passed across generations.

There is so much to learn from other species on our own planet.

While neural networks themselves are fantastic, are those species anything smarter than that? There's so much to learn from them yes, but I don't think based on this article that spiders would be "smarter than you think".

I don't think they are necessary self-conscious in an intelligent way. I think all of this behaviour can be explained from evolution honing them to have some sort of biases and weights towards this input causing that output.

And it's absolutely fascinating to learn to understand how they became to be the way they are. How environment affected, how all of it was stored in DNA so it can't be reproduced continuously and continuously.

I think level of spider's intelligence doesn't differ that much from what Tesla FSD is for example. Tesla FSD needs quite a bit of honing still of course.

We never ran from dinousaurs, but it'd have been kind of cool.

"We" as in "mammals", I guess.

Right, was more to put it perspective actually.

I was unpacking some computers we rented to a winery a few weeks ago, and all the boxes came with a different type of spider. My assistant is a young intern and just insisted on killing them (grave mistake, he got some sort of allergic reaction from that stupidity), while I just preferred to take them out the window and let them go (I don't want to hurt them but I don't want them to take residence inside our storage machines, cleaning the webbing is barely registrable as work, but I don't want them to get crushed with the fans or something. Guess I'm a softie at heart.) Anyway just that simple action shows you a lot about spiders. Some types just climbed on my hand and took the trip to the windowsill without any complaints, or they just somehow climbed off on their own with that parachute of theirs at the exact time I was intending to place them down. Others are more reluctant and they have to be running in a direction for them to climb. However, the most interesting of them was a jumping spider that was trying to make its home inside a crappy HP office computer.

I had never seen a jumping spider in real life, and its behavior was really fascinating. It refused to climb on my hand until the very end, and would wander around, like checking out the place, in a way that looked more like a very weird lost puppy with too many legs, than a bug. After a couple tries it attempted to resist further attempts by putting a recognizable warning stance, so I instead tried to tap my finger on the table to make it run on the opposite direction. After a couple taps it must have realized my bluff and just stared at the finger, confident it won't get hit. In the end it kinda reluctantly climbed my hand and before I was even near the window, it just jumped off like greased lightning and landed exactly where I wanted to put it (not literally, but it did land on the windowsill neatly), paced around a bit scanning the environment, then parachuted down to the street.

I always considered spiders relatively intelligent, specially compared to pests like the mosquito, whose only smarts seem to involve picking the worst time to show up, but otherwise behave like a crappy biological robot (the toy type not even the industrial type). But the way that jumping spider moved and behaved reminded me a lot more of how mammals and birds behave when put in an unknown place and being bothered by a human. I wonder if there's some relation to their eyesight. I wonder if that increases their awareness of what is what. Surely its brain has to be a bit more developed for visual processing, so perhaps that development has side effects in just making them smarter overall?

I could be falling into the usual trapping of humanizing its behavior, but it really seemed like I was dealing with a very weird-looking mouse or bird than an arachnid. It surely gave the most resistance out of all the spiders I encountered, which just happily climbed my hand and took the train to exitville, but that little bugger seemed to be aware of all the standard bug-herding tricks. I even wonder if it only allowed me to take it near the window because it decided it was where it wanted to go after scanning the environment enough. It might not have known I was taking it towards the window, but it seemed to realize that whatever I was doing, I was giving it a vantage point to reach the window with a jump given the direction I tried to take it in previous attempts before it escaped, which perhaps indicates some degree of abstract thinking?

I'm honestly fascinated about this, so if any of you is an entomologist or arachnid expert I'd like to know a more educated opinion. If I recall correctly jumping spiders are active hunters (as opposed to passive hunters like web spiders), so it'd make sense if they had some ability to think ahead and make basic plans. I don't recognize the specific species this spider was, but it was around the size of my thumb nail, light-ish brown with no particular markings and the first segment of its legs was much wider (around triple the width) than the rest. The boxes came from the northwestern region of Spain, somewhere in Galicia. I thought it was kinda cute even if its head looked like a weird tank turret.

It’s easy to be blind to the intelligence of animals that inhabit places we don’t go or think about.

Then one day, as so many accounts here attest, we notice a spider or an animal cross our realm and see that we have things in common - the urge to protect and nurture our young; the drive for self preservation; the call of hunger or thirst.

We do this not just with insects and animals, but also with other people. That ability to shut out the recognition of other people’s basic needs and feelings helps us to prioritise our own families welfare, and to get ahead personally.

That’s all understandable and ok to an extent. Taken too far, we risk alienating ourselves from something richly rewarding and powerfully good - the fellowship of people, insects and animals we haven’t met yet.

Cool I do wonder how much overlap there is between say nervous systems of insects and evolutionary far away species such as mammals.

Spiders on drugs gives interesting results too, although when I was in school these were being used as part of a "drugs will destroy your life" message... (sun link I know, but worth a google): https://www.thesun.co.uk/tech/6818187/nasa-spider-webs-drugs...

Not just spiders. I’ve a caterpillar solve puzzles I would have thought impossible via long running search with clear indications of evolving understanding of the environment and refinements to physical technique.

I was hoping to keep it around to see if it’d remember me when it became a moth, but after being kept in captivity for a couple days it showed signs of depression and I let it return to the wild. I hope to some day create an interesting enough enclosure to keep them mentally occupied for a full development cycle.

Shoutout to Ojo. Gone but not forgotten.

Spiders are amazing. Of course you should stay away from some of them, like blackwidow, the brown recluse, or the brazilian wandering spider but for the most part, house spiders (unless you're in Australia), and jumping spiders are usually friendly.

David Attenborough covered Portias in one of the documentaries: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDtlvZGmHYk -- It's fascinating that they can strategize their attack.

Recent and related:

Researchers are discovering surprising capabilities among a group of arachnids - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=29066064 - Nov 2021 (24 comments)

Spiders are much smarter than you think - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=29048443 - Oct 2021 (1 comment)

Turns out being too lazy to clean up spider corpses after I killed them actually was like putting out heads on pikes as a warning to future spiders entering my home.

Spiders have a higher https://wikipedia.org/wiki/Encephalization_quotient than humans. Brains are so important, some species babies have brains extending into their stomachs and even their legs.

IMHO the big barrier for spider intelligence and technology is their solitary nature.

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