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Jumping spiders’ remarkable senses capture a world beyond our perception

Scientists are catching glimpses of the surreal sensory landscape these spiders navigate

close-up of a jumping spider, with hairy legs, a hairy body, and four eyes

Jumping spiders have an exceptional way of sensing the world. Behavioral scientists are fascinated by the differences — and similarities — in how we view things.

THOMAS SHAHAN

By Betsy Mason

October 25, 2021 at 7:00 am

Imagine that the world is shades of gray and a little blurry, almost as if your lousy peripheral vision has taken over. This fuzzy field of view extends so far that you can make out dim shapes and motion behind you as well; no need to turn your head. The one bright spot is an X-shaped splash of color that moves with your gaze. At the center of this splash, everything is crisp and clear — a small window of sharp, colorful detail in a gauzy grayscape. 

Add some blades of grass the size of redwood trees, and you’ve got an inkling of what the world looks like through the eight eyes of a jumping spider. It might be a bit like watching a poorly focused black-and-white movie on a 3-D IMAX screen that wraps around the room, while you hold a spotlight shining high-definition color wherever you point it. In other words, it’s really, really strange, at least compared with our two-eyed human perspective. 

Jumping spiders, which are the family Salticidae, are best known for their hilariously flamboyant mating dances, their large front eyes that make for adorable close-ups and their itty-bitty size — some of the more than 6,000 known species of jumping spiders are smaller than a sesame seed. 

But scientists are discovering that there’s much more to these diminutive arachnids. Researchers are getting a sense of what it’s like to be another animal by doing innovative experiments to go deeper into these spiders’ lives, probing their ability to see, feel and taste.

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