The night-time temporal window of locomotor activity in the Namib Desert long-distance wandering spider, Leucorchestris arenicola

Abstract

Even though being active exclusively after sunset, the male Leucorchestris arenicola spiders are able to return to their point of departure by following bee-line routes of up to several hundreds of meters in length. While performing this kind of long-distance path integration they must rely on external cues to adjust for navigational errors. Many external cues which could be used by the spiders change dramatically or disappear altogether in the transition period from day to night. Hence, it is therefore imperative to know exactly when after sunset the spiders navigate in order to find out how they do it. To explore this question, we monitored their locomotor activity with data loggers equipped with infrared beam sensors. Our results show that the male spiders are most active in the period between the end and the beginning of the astronomical twilight period. Moreover, they prefer the moonless, i.e. darkest times at night. Hence, we conclude that the males are truly—and extremely—nocturnal. We further show that they are able to navigate under the very dim light conditions prevailing on moonless nights, and thus do not have to rely on the moon or on moon-related patterns of polarised light as potential compass cues.

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Abbreviations

LDE:

Long-distance excursion

MDE:

Medium-distance excursion

SDE:

Short-distance excursion

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Acknowledgements

We thank the Swiss National Science Foundation for funding the project (Grant No. 31-61844.00 to RW), the Department of Zoology, University of Zürich, Switzerland, and the Department of Zoology, University of Aarhus, Denmark, for equipment. Permission to work in the Namib-Naukluft Park was granted by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and the Gobabeb Training and Research Centre. This fieldwork complies with the “Principles of animal care,” publication no. 86-23, revised 1985 of the National Institute of Health and with Namibian law.

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Correspondence to Thomas Nørgaard.

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Nørgaard, T., Henschel, J.R. & Wehner, R. The night-time temporal window of locomotor activity in the Namib Desert long-distance wandering spider, Leucorchestris arenicola . J Comp Physiol A 192, 365–372 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00359-005-0072-7

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Keywords

  • Navigation
  • Homing
  • Path integration
  • Arachnidae
  • Locomotor activity