Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education



Front Page

World

UK

UK Politics

Business

Sci/Tech

Health

Education

Sport

Entertainment

Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Archive
Feedback
Low Graphics
Help

Thursday, September 30, 1999 Published at 01:26 GMT 02:26 UK


Sci/Tech

Spiders light the way



If you've ever wondered how spiders find their way into your bathtub, Swedish researchers think they have found the answer.


Marie Dacke from the University of Lund: "They have very special eyes"
Marie Dacke and colleagues, of the University of Lund, have discovered that at least one species of spider, Drassodes cupreus, has a compass with which to navigate.

The compass is actually a secondary pair of eyes that sit just behind the arachnid's principal eyes on the cephalothorax, the combined head and thorax body segment.

D. cupreus spiders, which are found in many parts of Northern Europe, use their specialised secondary eyes to analyse the polarisation of light in the sky.

These eyes do not form images - they have no lens with which to focus the light - but use a unique built-in filter to determine precisely the direction in which the light falling upon them is polarised.

Dusk and dawn

Because the orientation of light in the sky changes according to the position of the Sun, the eyes effectively provide bearings for navigation.

The researchers have shown that this "compass organ" works best at dusk and dawn, and that spiders of this species are most active after sunset when they rely on their interpretations of polarised light to guide them back to the nest after foraging trips.


Paul Pearce-Kelly from London Zoo give his reaction to the findings
The team actually set up a series of tests in which spiders had to find their way around an arena containing several nests. Under normal conditions, the spiders had little difficulty finding their way home after looking for food. But when the test spiders had their secondary eyes covered up very few could find their way back to the nest.

Evidence of what appear to be similar organs in several other spider species indicates that D. cupreus may not be the only arachnid with an integral compass.

The ability to use polarised light for navigation has been well demonstrated in other creatures such as bees and ants.



Advanced options | Search tips




Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage |


Sci/Tech Contents

Internet Links


Nature

Lund University

Marie Dacke


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.




In this section

World's smallest transistor

Scientists join forces to study Arctic ozone

Mathematicians crack big puzzle

From Business
The growing threat of internet fraud

Who watches the pilots?

From Health
Cold 'cure' comes one step closer