29 Apr 2024

Portia jumping spiders may have ability to plan attacks on prey

9:43 am on 29 April 2024
Portia fimbriata on the lookup

Photo: 123RF

It may sound like the stuff of nightmares but a New Zealand researcher is about to enter the world of a spider species hailed for its predatory hunting ability.

Professor Ximena Nelson, who is an animal behaviour expert at the University of Canterbury, will join an international team in China uncovering the secrets of Portia jumping spiders.

The spiders take long detours to hunt their prey - usually other spiders - patiently weighing up the risks before launching a surprise attack.

Professor Nelson said the spiders got down like a cat to stalk their prey and capitalised on their environment, including hiding before pouncing.

"So essentially they seem to be deciding ahead of time what to do and how to approach their prey and we're looking at that behaviour."

She said if researchers could confirm the spiders' ability to plan attacks, their intelligence was on a par with mammals.

They seemed to be deciding how to go about things ahead of time and to visualise their behaviour.

"So that is quite amazing and that is what we really aim to test quite rigorously - whether or not they are actually determining ahead of time or if they're updating as they go along, these complex routes."

Outside the spider world, Nelson said the research could be useful to discover what factors might lead to clever decision-making behaviour or what strategy to adopt with "minimal neurons".

That might lead to the development of computers that could make clever decisions "ahead of time with minimal power or with minimal computing elements".

She also offered reassurance that the spiders were tiny and posed no risk to humans.

"They can't even bite through our skin."

Portia Labiata jumping spider

The Portia Labiata jumping spider Photo: 123RF

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