No Place Like Home: Do Black Widow Spiders Use Path Integration to Navigate Their Webs?

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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  1. Thank you for sharing this work. This is not my area of expertise, but I found your explanations very clear and to the point. This study was easy for me to understand and follow. If we were able to meet in person, I would love to know more about your interest in this area of study and what the broader implications for this are. Thank you for sharing virtually!

  2. Thank you for your informative poster and abstract! This is outside my area but I found your poster quite easy to follow and well organized. Your presentation raised some questions for me. I was having difficulty trying to understand how the control spider worked into your experiment exactly, and I also wondered what an alternative hypothesis to path integration might look like such as the use of smell to find a location. I would like to hear more of the implications of your findings. Thanks for sharing your research!

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