10/01/2021

The World According To Sound: How Spiders Shake Things Up For Love

2:02 minutes

an illustration of a spider surrounded by different types of flowers
Credit: Shutterstock

Amorous arachnids sing to their lovers without making a sound. Instead, they like to shake things up. 

Spiders aren’t powerful enough to vibrate the air, the way actual singing does. Instead, they use the ground. Male spiders send vibrations down their legs, and into whatever they’re standing on. Nearby females “hear” the song vibrating up their legs.

Humans can’t hear these spider songs with our ears, but we can listen to them with the help of a laser doppler vibrometer. This instrument can make non-contact vibration measurements of a surface. It shoots a laser beam at a particular surface, and depending on how much that surface moves, it can then measure the frequency and amplitude of the vibration, based on the Doppler shift of the reflected laser beam.

Hear an example of these lovelorn spiders on The World According to Sound, a live audio show, online listening series, and miniature podcast that focuses on sound, not story. Producers Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett create intentional, communal listening experiences as a way to “reclaim autonomy in a visually dominated world that is increasingly fracturing our attention.” The spiders in this piece were recorded by researchers in Damian Elias’s lab at UC Berkeley.

This recording is part of their next listening series, an immersive listening party where audiences from all over the globe will be invited to experience a world of sound together, beginning in January 2022. You can get a ticket to the series here.


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Segment Guests

Chris Hoff

Chris Hoff is the co-producer of The World According To Sound podcast. He’s based in San Francisco, California.

Sam Harnett

Sam Harnett is the co-producer of The World According To Sound podcast. He’s based in San Francisco, California.

Segment Transcript

IRA FLATOW: And speaking of creepy crawlies, before we head out, I invite you to a treat for your ears, a SciFri soundscape from Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett of The World according to Sound podcast.

[CHIRPING]

SPEAKER 1: These are the mating songs of spiders.

[CHIRPING]

Spiders aren’t powerful enough to vibrate the air and actually sing. Instead they use the ground. Male spiders send vibrations down their legs and into whatever they’re standing on. Nearby females hear the song vibrating up their legs.

[VIBRATING]

We’re only able to hear these spiders because of a laser vibrometer, which records their tiny vibrations. Researchers in Damian Elias’s lab at UC Berkeley gathered the mating calls of many different species of spiders.

[TAPPING]

[VIBRATING]

[CHIRPING]

[VIBRATING]

[BUZZING]

[LOUD BUZZING]

[TAPPING]

[VIBRATING]

IRA FLATOW: Those sounds are part of a communal listening series The World According to Sound is hosting this winter. For more information about their 80-minute binaural events, visit theworldaccordingtosound.org.

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Meet the Producers and Host

About John Dankosky

John Dankosky works with the radio team to create our weekly show, and is helping to build our State of Science Reporting Network. He’s also been a long-time guest host on Science Friday. He and his wife have four cats, thousands of bees, and a yoga studio in the sleepy Northwest hills of Connecticut. 

About Ira Flatow

Ira Flatow is the host and executive producer of Science FridayHis green thumb has revived many an office plant at death’s door.

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