Sunday morning stuff: a spider and a whale

August 11, 2013 • 1:40 am

by Matthew Cobb

We have previously discussed the ethics of playing with a laserpointer and animals of various kinds, with some commenters (like me) expressing concerns about inducing frustration/injury in the hapless beasts that cavort after that elusive red dot. Even when they catch it, it’s no fun.  So what about this poor salticid? Do we care? Why (not)?

And, à propos des bottes (look it up – you might prefer passer du coq à l’âne), an albino Southern right whale calf (Eubalaena australis) has been filmed by surfers off the coast of Chile (excuse inane commentary; you can find a longer version sans commentaire here; I gave up struggling to embed it):

The mother, as you will note, is not albino. There are thought to be only a few thousand Southern right whales left; assuming that this is a genuine case of albinism and not leucism, inbreeding will make the appearance of such recessive mutations more likely. The calf might find life difficult – in particular it will be prone to sunburn.

20 thoughts on “Sunday morning stuff: a spider and a whale

  1. I’m able to sustain some kind of compassion towards spiders so long as they haven’t noticed me and decided to come at me with determination (which some do in Africa).

    Chasing the red dot has to be rewarded with some sort of food offering at the end, in my opinion. But while you can justify the activity for cats and maybe even fish in a tank (giving them exercise) I am pretty sure spiders don’t need it one bit.

  2. I feel less bad about cats than spiders. Cats understand the concept of play, but spiders don’t, and as Grania says, they don’t need the exercise either. Cats get bored and want entertainment, I doubt that boredom is a big problem for spiders, they just want dinner.

  3. It’s not nice to tease spiders. Spidey will have his revenge. 🙂

    I was using a higher powered laser last night to point out stars while watching for Perseids but I was careful not to aim it at low flying air craft (I live near an airport) as it’s even worse to tease an airplane.

    1. You can find JAC’s eddress at the Research Interests link above. I’m afraid the deadline has passed for submissions to the current series of posts, though.

  4. I don’t know about the ethics of teasing a spider but I’ll bet millions of flies and other dipterans were watching that video and saying: “yeah, that’s right! Chase the laser pointer ya stupid f**king arachnid!”

  5. I think the spider got its eyes dazzled there…you can see it running into the beam and stopping cold.

    I didn’t know that spiders tended to chase prey around on the ground, though…I thought they were more ambush specialists.


  6. Maybe, or like some snakes do the spider assumed it had injected venom and was waiting for the venom to take some of the thrashing fight out of the prey.

  7. The interesting question, it seems to me, is whether the spider has any capacity for frustration. Is it even aware of its own repeated inability to catch the laser spot? Or is it just mindlessly executing some sphexish behavioral program?

    An interesting test might be who tires of the game first: the spider, or the person wielding the laser. I’m betting it’s the person.

    A couple of days ago we saw a video of a cat riding a Roomba. Nobody stopped to wonder whether this was cruel to the Roomba. How complex is a spider’s brain compared to a Roomba’s? I don’t know, but surely there’s some threshold of complexity below which we can reasonably say that teasing creature X is no more cruel than teasing a Roomba.

    1. Roombas do not care. They get all the power they need, plus regular grooming sessions. And it is CATS that have made them famous, not Roombas actual cleaning powers.

    2. At some point yes, I would agree. But I think it is not possible to determine that point with any great accuracy at our current level of understanding.

      For example jumping spider species, which hunt their prey, have some pretty advanced cognitive abilities, especially given the size of their brains. Studies have shown that they have the ability to see distant (for them) prey from a particular vantage point, map out a route from where they are to the prey, then follow that route to the prey even though once they leave their vantage point they can no longer see the prey.

      That doesn’t directly speak to the question of whether or not a spider can be unduly stressed by teasing them, but I think its tiny little brain can easily out perform a Roomba. And one surprising cognitive ability suggests that there could be other surprises.

  8. This has me thinking.

    To me it might be iteresting to investigate why the spider is attracted – heat signature rather than light? Not sure what world the spider sees, in light frequency? UV?

    However, done just to bamboozle the spider for human ‘entertainment’ would be another matter. In my world then I have a strange conflict – it is alright in the name of science/curiosity, but not otherwise.

    Is this wrong?

  9. 2 cats belonging to neighbours reacted to a pointer differently:

    #1 took about 6 months to work out that there was nothing to catch. Owner was the person with the pointer (and didn’t use it regularly, no abuse).

    #2 took 1 attempt. After then, if he saw the pointer again he’d twitch, but not follow it.

    #1 is a beautiful cat, street-smart but a bit thick in other areas. #2 is very bright, quick at problem-solving, but without the alleycat instincts of #1. Interesting contrast of feline personalities.

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