Lens of Time: Spider Seduction

For these jumping spiders, stayin' alive requires all the right dance moves—and the perfect soundtrack, too.

It’s a rich and complex performance—at once lyrical, highly choreographed, and potentially deadly. Every day, right under our noses, tiny jumping spiders engage in elaborate acts of synchronized seduction. For them, it’s a right of passage, one that’s critical to their species’ survival. Males dance to win the acceptance—and avoid the jaws—of picky potential mates. And to enhance their dance, the males provide their own multi-instrumental accompaniment—personal vibratory songs that they create through lightning-fast movements of their legs and abdomens. Damian Elias, an evolutionary biologist at UC Berkeley, has made it his life’s work to understand the breadth and complexity of these spider serenades, which, until recently, were impossible to perceive by human senses. Armed with spider decoys, high-speed cameras, and laser listening devices that allow him to act, see, and hear like a spider, Elias and his colleagues are discovering what combination of ability, grace, and swagger allows jumping spiders to discern which individuals offer the best potential in a mate. And they’re finding that these dances may in fact play a critical role in the evolution and differentiation of new jumping spider species.

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Spine Films is a San Francisco Bay Area production company specializing in international science, nature, environment, and arts media. They search for stories that provide opportunities to find the magical in the mundane, and that celebrate the beautiful intricacy of our Universe. You can find their films and stories on PBS, Discovery Networks, National Geographic and on websites and broadcast stations around the world.

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