Damian Elias of Toronto University uses a laser Doppler vibrometer to record spider conversations. Producer Jeff Rice, of the Hearing Voices Project, visited with him to hear some of the good vibrations coming from the spider world.
GELLERMAN: You’ve heard of the movie: “The Kiss of the Spider Woman,” well this is the music of the spider man.
Researcher Damian Elias of the University of Toronto, uses a laser Doppler vibrometer to measure and record spiders communicating.
ELIAS: One of the things about spiders and one of the reasons that I’m interested in them, is they’re kind of maters of vibration domain. The ones on webs males, for example, pluck songs to the females.
[RYTHMIC SPIDER VIBRATIONS]
ELIAS: It really is like plucking a guitar string. But not all spiders live on webs and so a lot of other spiders they use sort of vibrations but they’re sort of vibrating on leaves or something like that, not webs.
[SPIDER VIBRATING ON LEAVES SOUNDS]
ELIAS: One of the wolf spiders that I work on make their sounds by drumming. They use the pedipalps, which are their genitalia basically, and they’re banging them against the ground in stereotype patterns. And they also use their legs so they use their pedipalps and their legs to drum this love song to females.
[WOLF SPIDER LOVE SONG]
ELIAS: Jumping spiders have these elaborate displays where they wave the different legs, they sway back and forth in a very sort of rhythmical fashion. It’s kind of like flamenco dancing I kind of see it as.
[JUMPING SPIDER THUMPING]
The surface that you heard vibrating is actually on a nylon surface, actually panty hose because it’s just easier to control than say having them vibrate on leaves or rocks or something because they can be quite complicated, the vibration characteristics of them.
I basically came to it with an interest in sensory systems and I was interested in acoustics, vibrational or hearing. And they just happen to be such charismatic creatures, I find spiders very charismatic, that as soon as I started recording from them and it ended up that not a lot of work has been done so that really quickly fed upon itself and just really became a great system to study.
[SPIDER VIBRATION MONTAGE]
GELLERMAN: Damian Elias is a researcher at the University of Toronto. Our story was produced by Jeff Rice for the Hearing Voices radio series.
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