Nocturnal homing: learning walks in a wandering spider?

PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e49263. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0049263. Epub 2012 Nov 7.


Homing by the nocturnal Namib Desert spider Leucorchestris arenicola (Araneae: Sparassidae) is comparable to homing in diurnal bees, wasps and ants in terms of path length and layout. The spiders' homing is based on vision but their basic navigational strategy is unclear. Diurnal homing insects use memorised views of their home in snapshot matching strategies. The insects learn the visual scenery identifying their nest location during learning flights (e.g. bees and wasps) or walks (ants). These learning flights and walks are stereotyped movement patterns clearly different from other movement behaviours. If the visual homing of L. arenicola is also based on an image matching strategy they are likely to exhibit learning walks similar to diurnal insects. To explore this possibility we recorded departures of spiders from a new burrow in an unfamiliar area with infrared cameras and analysed their paths using computer tracking techniques. We found that L. arenicola performs distinct stereotyped movement patterns during the first part of their departures in an unfamiliar area and that they seem to learn the appearance of their home during these movement patterns. We conclude that the spiders perform learning walks and this strongly suggests that L. arenicola uses a visual memory of the burrow location when homing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Homing Behavior*
  • Learning*
  • Linear Models
  • Spiders / physiology*
  • Vision, Ocular
  • Visual Perception
  • Walking

Grants and funding

The authors wish to thank the Carlsberg Foundation, the Carl Tryggers Foundation, the Swedish Research Council, and the Royal Physiographic Society in Lund for funding. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.