Can Spiders Hear? Unraveling the Mystery of Arachnid Senses

folder_openArachnida, Araneae
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Spiders are known for their impressive visual abilities, with some species having up to eight eyes. However, recent studies have revealed that these arachnids possess another surprising skill: the ability to hear. While it was once believed that spiders relied primarily on their sense of touch to detect prey and navigate their environments, new research has shown that they can also rely on acoustic cues to keep them in tune with their surroundings.

In a study conducted at Binghamton University, scientists discovered that spiders use their webs to amplify sound signals and thus extend their hearing capabilities. This fascinating discovery further expands our understanding of spiders and their unique adaptations to their environments. Some species, like the jumping spider Menemerus semilimbatus, have been shown to identify biological motion in addition to using their webs for hearing purposes.

By better understanding the hearing capabilities of spiders, we can gain more insights into their behavior, communication strategies, and potential uses of their advanced sensory abilities. So, the next time you come across a spider, appreciate it for more than just its exoskeleton, but also its incredible ability to perceive its surroundings in ways that were once unknown.

Can Spiders Hear?

Sound Perception

While spiders do not have ears like humans, they still possess a unique way of perceiving sound. Research has shown that certain spiders, like the jumping spiders, have advanced visual capabilities to sense motion and identify potential prey.

Vibrations

Spiders are specially adapted to detect vibrations in their environment. Many spiders, like orb-weaving spiders, rely on their webs as auditory sensors for outsourced hearing. When something vibrates their webs, they respond quickly to assess the situation.

Sensitive Hairs

Spiders are also equipped with sensitive hairs on their legs, which help them detect vibrations from sound and movement. These hairs are crucial for their survival, enabling them to sense danger and find prey.

Pros of spiders hearing through vibrations:

  • Adapted for their environment
  • Effective for detecting prey and threats

Cons of spiders hearing through vibrations:

  • Limited range compared to ears
  • Less effective in noisy environments

Comparison of Spider vs. Human Hearing:

Spider Human
Hearing Through vibrations and sensitive hairs Through ears and soundwaves
Range Limited to the immediate environment Longer range, able to hear sounds from farther away
Adapted For sensing prey and threats in their natural habitat For communication and detecting a wide range of sounds

In summary:

  • Spiders don’t hear like humans but can detect sound and movement through vibrations and sensitive hairs.
  • They’re specially adapted for their environment and have a unique way of perceiving sound.

Spider Hearing Mechanisms

Legs as Sensory Organs

Spiders rely on their legs to detect vibrations and sounds. Their legs are incredibly sensitive, allowing them to pick up even the smallest movements in their surroundings. For instance, when potential prey moves close to a spider, it can sense the vibrations and react accordingly.

Vibration-Sensing Hairs

Spiders also have tiny hairs called mechanoreceptors on their legs, which aid in sensing vibrations. These hairs can detect minute movements in the air or on surfaces, sending signals to the spider’s brain about its environment. Specifically, these hairs help spiders identify potential threats, like predators or human presence, and prey.

Trichobothria

Additionally, spiders have another type of hair called trichobothria. These long, thin hairs can sense even the slightest air movements, allowing spiders to “hear” by detecting vibrations in the air. A study shows that spiders can outsource hearing to their webs as auditory sensors, further enhancing their ability to “listen” to their environment.

_Here’s a comparison table of the different sensory structures

Research on Spider Hearing

Cornell University Study

A study at Cornell University discovered that spiders can hear through their webs. They tested this by playing frequencies up to 68 decibels, and found that spiders could sense the sound.

  • Spider hearing through webs
  • Frequency tested up to 68 decibels

Jumping Spiders and Male Voice

Jumping spiders, such as Menemerus semilimbatus, have excellent visual capabilities with eight eyes. Research suggests that they might also have sensitive hearing, utilizing it to detect a male’s courtship song.

  • Eight eyes for great vision
  • Might detect male’s song through hearing

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Acute vision
  • Possible sensitive hearing

Cons:

  • Limited data on hearing capabilities

Ogre-Faced Spiders and Nocturnal Hunting

Ogre-faced spiders are known for their unique nocturnal hunting abilities, as well as being able to sense vibrations. Jay Stafstrom’s research showed that they can capture and process auditory information to locate prey while hunting at night.

  • Nocturnal hunters
  • Can sense vibrations and process auditory information

Comparison Table

Jumping Spiders Ogre-Faced Spiders
Vision Excellent Good
Hearing Possible Yes
Distinct Abilities Detect male’s song Nocturnal hunting and vibration sensing

Spider Communication and Predators

Feeling Vibrations to Detect Prey

Arachnids, including spiders, use their sensitive sensory organs to detect vibrations in their environment. This ability helps them hunt and find prey. For example, jumping spiders can sense the surface they are on, and use this information to make precise jumps towards their prey.

Some spiders have special structures called trichobothria that can detect even the slightest air movements, such as the wingbeats of an approaching insect. These sensory hairs are highly sensitive and crucial for spiders to locate and capture their prey.

Parasitoid Wasps and Predator Detection

Parasitoid wasps are common predators of spiders. They have a unique way of detecting their prey. These wasps can “listen” to the vibrations created by spiders, using specialized sensory organs. This allows them to locate and attack spiders with remarkable accuracy.

In response to this threat, some spider species have evolved specific behaviors to avoid attracting the attention of these predators. For example, when sensing a nearby wasp, a spider may freeze, change its vibrational pattern, or quickly retreat to avoid detection.

Spider Species and Sensing Danger

Different spider species have varying abilities to sense and respond to danger. Here’s a comparison table of some notable examples:

Spider Species Sensing Ability Response to Danger
Jumping Spiders Excellent vision and vibration sensing Quick, agile jumps to escape
Orb-weaving Spiders Detect vibrations in silk webs Retreat to hide or escape
Wolf Spiders Use body hairs for vibration sensing Rely on speed and camouflage for predator avoidance

In summary, spiders use their keen sensory abilities to detect prey, predators, and danger. Their various methods of sensing, from vibrations to vision, enable them to interact with their surroundings in unique ways. While some spiders rely on speed and agility, others use complex web structures or specialized body hairs to stay safe from predators and ensure successful hunts.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Spiderlings

 

Spider hatchlings- Orb spiders?
Hello Bugman,
My kids found this pocket of "spiderlings" in my garden between two blades of grass; no mommy in sight. A few days after this photo, I discovered them climbing a web attached to the cherry tree above them. Very cute. I understand that you are swamped but I absolutely love this photo. I think these babies are Orb Weavers judging from what I’ve learned from a similar photo on your most fantastic site. I realize that the species is large and would like to know if they could be identified. I’m in the Laurentians in Quebec, Canada. I’ve been able to identify and understand many bugs through your site. Thanks for what you do,
Shannon

Hi Shannon,
Thanks so much for the compliment. We also love your photo. We concur that they are most probably Orb Weavers, but we do not possess the necessary skills to identify them to the species. Your best clue would be the very visible adult spiders that were in the vicinity the prior autumn.

Letter 2 – Spiders

 

I spotted this pretty spider while on vacation in Kauai, Hawaii. It was in the bushes at the entrance to Alllerton botanical gardens on the south side of the island. The web was approx 3′-5′ wide with a thicker zig-zag of silk running through the center. The spider was about 2" wide (legtip to leg tip). I’m curous what type of spider it is and what purpose the zig-zag in the web serves.
Thanks, Erin

Dear Erin,
You have a type of Garden Spider from the family Argiopinae, the Agriopes. It is a close relative of our mainland species, Argiope aurantia, the Golden Orb Weaver, and could possibly be a color variation from Hawaii. The zig-zag design in the web is called the stabilimentum and it is believed to be a camouflague mechanism since the spiders often position themselves aligned with it. Here is one of our favorite websites with amazing photos of other garden spiders, including an exact double of your specimen.

Letter 3 – Thorn Spider from Madagascar

 

Madagaskar Spider
Hallo Bugman,
perhaps you know, what kind of spider this is. I found it near Andasibe in Madagaskar. I think it looks really interesting. Thank you very much.
Christian

Hi Christian,
This spider closely resembles a Crablike Spiny Orb Weaver found in the U.S. in the genus Gasterocantha. Your spider is probably closely related.

Another try: Gasteracantha versicolor formosa ??? I hope, i don’t steal too much of your time.

Gasteracantha versicolor formosa, or the Thorn Spider looks correct, according to this site.

Letter 4 – Unknown Spider from Costa Rica

 

Subject: Costa Rican Spider
Location: Costa Rica, Limon
September 1, 2016 6:57 am
Hi. I found this spider on a tree in the Limon province of Costa Rica. Very close to the Panama border. Do you know what it is?
Thanks!
Signature: Calvin

Unidentified Spider
Unidentified Spider

We are not certain of the identity, or even the family classification of your spider, but we can tell you that the enlarged pedipalps indicates it is a male Spider.  Perhaps one of our readers will want to take on the challenge of this identification.

Letter 5 – Unknown Spider from Baja

 

Skinny Guy with Long Hairy legs
June 5, 2010
My kitty found this guy living in my windowsill. He has a tiny body but his long legs make him quite big about – about the size of a silver dollar. He’s light brownish and has little leg hairs. Please help us identify him.
Baja Bug Girl
San Felipe, Baja California

Possibly Funnel Web Spider

Dear Baja Bug Girl,
We are uncertain as to the identity of your spider, but our best guess is a Funnel Web Spider in the family Agelenidae which is well represented on BugGuide.  Your letter did not indicate if there was a web in the windowsill.  We hope one of our readers will be able to assist with this identification.

Letter 6 – Unknown Spider from Guyana

 

scary-looking spider in Guyana
Wed, Jan 21, 2009 at 12:15 PM
Hi,
I have been unsuccessfull in finding this spider on the internet. It was photographed in Guyana (Atta rainforest) in 2006. Can you help?
Erik Zandboer
Atta rainforest, Guyana

Unknown Spider from Guyana
Unknown Spider from Guyana

Hi Erik,
We are sorry, but we cannot identify your spider.  Perhaps one of our readers will be able to assist.  Many rain forest creatures are not identified, or are poorly described.

Letter 7 – Unknown Spider from Missouri

 

Odd spider in the house
Location: Joplin, Missouri
April 2, 2012 4:12 pm
Hi Bugman!
I cam home from work today to find this spider in the house. More to the point, I found this spider attempting to crawl around on a balloon in the house, which looked pretty strange. I picked up the balloon with its spider passenger and let it go on the porch. That’s where I got these pictures.
The spider is fairly small, but very long and thin. Not at all the kind I’m used to seeing in nooks and crannies around the house. It has a brownish black body and a white abdomen with a design on it. I was unable to find any pictures on the web that looked like it. Could you help me figure out what kind of spider it is? Thanks!
Signature: Whitney

Unknown Spider

Hi Whitney,
We did a bit of searching, and like you, we were not very successful at finding an identification.  Your spider somewhat resembles the Orchard Spiders pictured on BugGuide, but we know that is not the correct identification.  Perhaps one of our readers will be able to assist.

Unknown Spider

Thank you so much for your quick response! The spider does look a lot like the orchard spider you mentioned and the long-jawed orbweaver Bugophile mentioned in the comments, with some obvious differences from both. (namely the very dark coloring of the body)
I went out to check the porch and the yard, hoping to find the spider again to maybe snap more pictures, but didn’t have any luck. I instead found something pretty amazing. Ladybugs! Ladybug larvae seem to be crawling all up the fenceline and surrounding rocks, planting themselves and then hatching. It’s pretty amazing to see and the yard is already filling up with ladybugs. I attached some pictures to share with you.
Thanks!
Whitney

Letter 8 – Unknown Spider from Ohio

 

Subject: What’s this gorgeous spider?
Location: Central Ohio
April 25, 2017 12:59 pm
Hello! Recently converted arachnophobe here – made friends with an argiope aurantia last year…now I’m fascinated with our spider buddies, and have educated myself on the various species in my area (Central Ohio). I walk my property every day looking for new friends, and I came across this absolutely beautiful spider. She was hanging out in a very fuzzy, messy web (not an orbweaver-like web), and did me the courtesy of posing for photos taken with my phone. Very docile, green legs, white and yellow underbelly…but no idea what she is. Any idea? Thank you!
Signature: Jaime

Unknown Spider

Dear Jaime,
At first glance we thought this resembled an Orchard Spider, but closer inspection caused us to change our minds, plus it is early in the year for an Orchard Spider in Ohio, and the web you described does not fit.  We searched through the genera of the Comb Footed Spiders in the family Theridiidae on BugGuide and we could not find a match.  Perhaps one of our readers will recognize this spider.

Unknown Spider

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Spiderlings

 

Spider hatchlings- Orb spiders?
Hello Bugman,
My kids found this pocket of "spiderlings" in my garden between two blades of grass; no mommy in sight. A few days after this photo, I discovered them climbing a web attached to the cherry tree above them. Very cute. I understand that you are swamped but I absolutely love this photo. I think these babies are Orb Weavers judging from what I’ve learned from a similar photo on your most fantastic site. I realize that the species is large and would like to know if they could be identified. I’m in the Laurentians in Quebec, Canada. I’ve been able to identify and understand many bugs through your site. Thanks for what you do,
Shannon

Hi Shannon,
Thanks so much for the compliment. We also love your photo. We concur that they are most probably Orb Weavers, but we do not possess the necessary skills to identify them to the species. Your best clue would be the very visible adult spiders that were in the vicinity the prior autumn.

Letter 2 – Spiders

 

I spotted this pretty spider while on vacation in Kauai, Hawaii. It was in the bushes at the entrance to Alllerton botanical gardens on the south side of the island. The web was approx 3′-5′ wide with a thicker zig-zag of silk running through the center. The spider was about 2" wide (legtip to leg tip). I’m curous what type of spider it is and what purpose the zig-zag in the web serves.
Thanks, Erin

Dear Erin,
You have a type of Garden Spider from the family Argiopinae, the Agriopes. It is a close relative of our mainland species, Argiope aurantia, the Golden Orb Weaver, and could possibly be a color variation from Hawaii. The zig-zag design in the web is called the stabilimentum and it is believed to be a camouflague mechanism since the spiders often position themselves aligned with it. Here is one of our favorite websites with amazing photos of other garden spiders, including an exact double of your specimen.

Letter 3 – Thorn Spider from Madagascar

 

Madagaskar Spider
Hallo Bugman,
perhaps you know, what kind of spider this is. I found it near Andasibe in Madagaskar. I think it looks really interesting. Thank you very much.
Christian

Hi Christian,
This spider closely resembles a Crablike Spiny Orb Weaver found in the U.S. in the genus Gasterocantha. Your spider is probably closely related.

Another try: Gasteracantha versicolor formosa ??? I hope, i don’t steal too much of your time.

Gasteracantha versicolor formosa, or the Thorn Spider looks correct, according to this site.

Letter 4 – Unknown Spider from Costa Rica

 

Subject: Costa Rican Spider
Location: Costa Rica, Limon
September 1, 2016 6:57 am
Hi. I found this spider on a tree in the Limon province of Costa Rica. Very close to the Panama border. Do you know what it is?
Thanks!
Signature: Calvin

Unidentified Spider
Unidentified Spider

We are not certain of the identity, or even the family classification of your spider, but we can tell you that the enlarged pedipalps indicates it is a male Spider.  Perhaps one of our readers will want to take on the challenge of this identification.

Letter 5 – Unknown Spider from Baja

 

Skinny Guy with Long Hairy legs
June 5, 2010
My kitty found this guy living in my windowsill. He has a tiny body but his long legs make him quite big about – about the size of a silver dollar. He’s light brownish and has little leg hairs. Please help us identify him.
Baja Bug Girl
San Felipe, Baja California

Possibly Funnel Web Spider

Dear Baja Bug Girl,
We are uncertain as to the identity of your spider, but our best guess is a Funnel Web Spider in the family Agelenidae which is well represented on BugGuide.  Your letter did not indicate if there was a web in the windowsill.  We hope one of our readers will be able to assist with this identification.

Letter 6 – Unknown Spider from Guyana

 

scary-looking spider in Guyana
Wed, Jan 21, 2009 at 12:15 PM
Hi,
I have been unsuccessfull in finding this spider on the internet. It was photographed in Guyana (Atta rainforest) in 2006. Can you help?
Erik Zandboer
Atta rainforest, Guyana

Unknown Spider from Guyana
Unknown Spider from Guyana

Hi Erik,
We are sorry, but we cannot identify your spider.  Perhaps one of our readers will be able to assist.  Many rain forest creatures are not identified, or are poorly described.

Letter 7 – Unknown Spider from Missouri

 

Odd spider in the house
Location: Joplin, Missouri
April 2, 2012 4:12 pm
Hi Bugman!
I cam home from work today to find this spider in the house. More to the point, I found this spider attempting to crawl around on a balloon in the house, which looked pretty strange. I picked up the balloon with its spider passenger and let it go on the porch. That’s where I got these pictures.
The spider is fairly small, but very long and thin. Not at all the kind I’m used to seeing in nooks and crannies around the house. It has a brownish black body and a white abdomen with a design on it. I was unable to find any pictures on the web that looked like it. Could you help me figure out what kind of spider it is? Thanks!
Signature: Whitney

Unknown Spider

Hi Whitney,
We did a bit of searching, and like you, we were not very successful at finding an identification.  Your spider somewhat resembles the Orchard Spiders pictured on BugGuide, but we know that is not the correct identification.  Perhaps one of our readers will be able to assist.

Unknown Spider

Thank you so much for your quick response! The spider does look a lot like the orchard spider you mentioned and the long-jawed orbweaver Bugophile mentioned in the comments, with some obvious differences from both. (namely the very dark coloring of the body)
I went out to check the porch and the yard, hoping to find the spider again to maybe snap more pictures, but didn’t have any luck. I instead found something pretty amazing. Ladybugs! Ladybug larvae seem to be crawling all up the fenceline and surrounding rocks, planting themselves and then hatching. It’s pretty amazing to see and the yard is already filling up with ladybugs. I attached some pictures to share with you.
Thanks!
Whitney

Letter 8 – Unknown Spider from Ohio

 

Subject: What’s this gorgeous spider?
Location: Central Ohio
April 25, 2017 12:59 pm
Hello! Recently converted arachnophobe here – made friends with an argiope aurantia last year…now I’m fascinated with our spider buddies, and have educated myself on the various species in my area (Central Ohio). I walk my property every day looking for new friends, and I came across this absolutely beautiful spider. She was hanging out in a very fuzzy, messy web (not an orbweaver-like web), and did me the courtesy of posing for photos taken with my phone. Very docile, green legs, white and yellow underbelly…but no idea what she is. Any idea? Thank you!
Signature: Jaime

Unknown Spider

Dear Jaime,
At first glance we thought this resembled an Orchard Spider, but closer inspection caused us to change our minds, plus it is early in the year for an Orchard Spider in Ohio, and the web you described does not fit.  We searched through the genera of the Comb Footed Spiders in the family Theridiidae on BugGuide and we could not find a match.  Perhaps one of our readers will recognize this spider.

Unknown Spider

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts
Tags: Spiders

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3 Comments. Leave new

  • Hi Daniel! Glad you got your email system working again. You might want to change the headline on the “featured” section, though! In the meantime, check out this long-jawed orbweaver on bugguide: http://bugguide.net/node/view/202579/bgpage; it isn’t identified down to species, but the markings are very similar, as is the overall aspect of the spider. Whitney’s is darker, but perhaps it is an older specimen, or perhaps it is a variable species. As if that might be the case!

    Reply
    • Thanks for the link. Though Whitney’s spider does look like the Long Jawed Orbweavers, we are not fully convinced.

      Reply
  • Hey I found one similar to this and I think it looks just like mine expect the legs are different colors I did some research and I found a orb spider that makes since because I found mine on a Web hanging upside down and orange underneath and back was silver with a black line down it with the branch off just like this one. But the legs on mine is green which I found out they can be any color. Here it the link http://www.spiders.us/image/leucauge-venusta-20/

    Reply

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