Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 189, Issue 11, pp 801–809 | Cite as

Long-distance navigation in the wandering desert spider Leucorchestris arenicola: can the slope of the dune surface provide a compass cue?

  • T. Nørgaard
  • J. R. Henschel
  • R. WehnerEmail author
Original Paper


Males of the nocturnal spider Leucorchestris arenicola (Araneae: Sparassidae) wander long distances over seemingly featureless dune surfaces in the Namib Desert searching for females. The spiders live in burrows to which they return after nearly every such excursion. While the outward path of an excursion may be a meandering search, the return path is often a nearly straight line leading towards the burrow. This navigational behaviour resembles that of path integration known from other arthropods, though on a much larger scale (over tens to hundreds of meters). Theoretically, precise navigation by path integration over long distances requires an external compass in order to adjust for inevitable accumulation of navigational errors. As a first step towards identifying any nocturnal compass cues used by the male spiders, a method for detailed 3-D recordings of the spider’s paths was developed. The 3-D reconstructions of the paths revealed details about the processes involved in the spiders’ nocturnal way of navigation. Analyses of the reconstructed paths suggest that gravity (slope of the dune surface) is an unlikely parameter used in path integration by the L. arenicola spiders.


Arachnidae Gravity Homing Path integration Slope 



We thank the Gobabeb Training and Research Centre and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism for permission to work in the Namib-Naukluft Park, the Swiss National Science Foundation for funding the project (grant no. 31-61844.00 to R.W.), the Department of Zoology, University of Zürich, Switzerland and the Department of Zoology, University of Aarhus, Denmark, for equipment and infrastructural support. We are grateful also to Torben Geilman and Klaus Birkhofer for valuable help and fruitful discussions. This fieldwork complies with Namibian law.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of ZuerichZuerichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Gobabeb Training and Research CentreWalvis BayAfrica

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