Spiders Avoid Foods That Leave A Bad Taste

Spiders Avoid Foods That Leave A Bad Taste

8:00am Apr 19, 2019
New research shows that spiders react to irritating chemicals in a similar way to mammals, including humans. Photo courtesy of Wake Forest University.

Scientists and students at Wake Forest University recently unveiled new research on spiders. It turns out these arachnids have a refined sense of taste.

Our chemical senses not only help us identify how foods smell or taste, but also whether something we’re eating is an irritant. This is known as a trigeminal sensation. Researchers at Wake Forest wondered if spiders have as complex a palate.

To test their ideas, they applied menthol and capsaicin to a wolf spider’s back legs, and these caused little to no reaction. But that wasn’t the case for AITC (allyl isothiocyanate), the active ingredient in mustard and wasabi.

Doctor Jake Saunders worked on the study. He says that mice, when exposed to similar irritants, will immediately start trying to remove the chemical.

“And the spiders do the same exact same behavior, just times eight," says Saunders. "It’s almost humorous to watch in a sense, because they sort of use three to four of their legs to kind of make a tripod, or quadra-pod. Then they use the other legs to wipe the one leg that has the chemicals on it.”

When offered a cricket that had been dunked in the AITC solution, the spider took one bite, dropped it, and started grooming its mouthparts. This is particularly unusual behavior for this arachnid.

The research could help further our understanding of human pain receptors, and aid in the development of drug treatments and molecular medicine. It could also lead to the development of spider repellent that uses chemicals that occur in nature. 

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