Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology 195:4 (April 2009), pp. 393-399; doi: 10.1007/s00359-009-0417-8 Copyright © Springer-Verlag 2009. Used by permission.


The ability of animals to learn and remember underpins many behavioral actions and can be crucial for survival in certain contexts, for example in finding and recognizing a habitual refuge. The sensory cues that an animal learns in such situations are to an extent determined by its own sensory specializations. Whip spiders (Arachnida, Amblypygi) are nocturnal and possess uniquely specialized sensory systems that include elongated “antenniform” forelegs specialized for use as chemo- and mechanosensory feelers. We tested the tactile learning abilities of the whip spider Phrynus marginemaculatus in a maze learning task with two tactile cues of different texture—one associated with an accessible refuge, and the other with an inaccessible refuge. Over ten training trials, whip spiders got faster and more accurate at finding the accessible refuge. During a subsequent test trial where both refuges were inaccessible, whip spiders searched for significantly longer at the tactile cue previously associated with the accessible refuge. Using high-speed cinematography, we describe three distinct antenniform leg movements used by whip spiders during tactile examination. We discuss the potential importance of tactile learning in whip spider behavior and a possible role for their unique giant sensory neurons in accessing tactile information.