Tiffany Antonopoulos, “No Place Like Home: Do Black Widow Spiders Use Path Integration to Navigate Their Webs?”
Mentors: Rafael Rodriguez & Clinton Sergi, Biological Sciences
Animals store memories about the layout of their environment and use this stored information to navigate. One common way of storing this information is to construct a mental path integration model, which stores an animal’s cumulative distance and direction from home. Black widow spiders use stored information about their webs when navigating the web, but it is not clear what information they store. We conducted an experiment to test if black widows store a path integration model. We tested the hypothesis that black widows store their cumulative distance and direction from their home as they move about the web. This hypothesis predicts that when displaced to a new location on the web, spiders will attempt to return home by following a path the same distance and direction as the most direct path from where they were originally displaced. To test this, we lured black widows to the most distant part of their webs from their homes. we then either puffed the spiders with air to get them to flee home or displaced the spiders to a different location on the web before puffing. We used videos of each trial to measure the length and direction each spider’s path after being puffed. We compared these measurements to the length and direction of the most direct path home from where we initially lured each spider. I will discuss these results in terms of whether the paths black widows took when attempting to go home match the paths predicted by the path integration hypothesis.
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