Jakob Awarded Fulbright to Study Jumping Spiders in New Zealand
Psychology professor Elizabeth M. Jakob will spend six months in New Zealand studying jumping spiders and how they track prey with their eyes. The research is supported by a grant from the Fulbright Scholar Program. Jakob will spend the spring semester at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, working with collaborating researcher Robert Jackson.
Jumping spiders have very unusual eyes that provide them with excellent sight. “Robert and I have noticed a great deal of variation across species in how quickly they attack prey,” says Jakob. “The species I work on quickly pivot and direct their eyes toward potential prey, and then generally make a decision whether to attack within seconds. Other species, including some of those that Robert works on, sit and stare and stare at prey for up to 20 minutes before attacking it.”
Jakob and Jackson think that the difference in attack behavior has to do with how the spiders use retinal scanning to gather information about the images, and its evolution is influenced by whether they feed on slow-moving prey that allow this kind of scanning. “We are going to study this from both a behavioral perspective and with a special ‘eye tracking’ system that will enable us to see exactly where spiders are looking,” Jakob says. This variation across species makes jumping spiders an excellent model system in which to study questions about the evolution of perceptual systems. She says Jackson keeps dozens of species of jumping spiders in captivity, so it’s the only place in the world to do this work.
While in New Zealand, Jakob will co-teach a course in animal behavior and plans to travel to Australia to visit with other collaborating researchers. Jakob studied in the same lab under an earlier Fulbright grant when she was a postdoctoral fellow with Adam Porter. Porter, now her husband, is an associate professor at Department of Plant, Soil and Insect Sciences.
—By Patrick J. Callahan
December 7, 2006
Read more about Jakob's work.