In a recent study on animal behavior, biologists Tina Peckmezian and Phillip W. Taylor of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, worked with 56 female jumping spiders in a fascinating virtual environment.
Spiders were first transferred from their cages to a refrigerator where they were “cooled until quiescent,” as Peckmezian and Taylor put it and later placed on a chilled granite block. Small magnets were “gently affixed” to the spiders using a bit of dental cement, “taking care not to cover the eyes.”
After a 24-hour period of recovery, the spiders were then “gently” lifted, using special equipment, onto a 3D-printed spherical treadmill that was positioned in front of a display screen, where the spiders were held in place by their magnets.
A virtual-reality (VR) environment was projected onto the screen that the spiders could walk through.
It was a closed loop VR, meaning an environment in which the spiders’ own movements create contingent changes in what happened on the screen. The closed-loop projected scenes were set against a flat ground plane that was in texture and color meant to resemble tree bark.
The goal of this research was to see if the spiders’ behavioral tendencies and learning transferred from RW (the real world) to VR. They did. These results are important primarily because they confirm that VR environments will be useful for the researchers’ long-term goals. Peckmezian and Taylor seek new ways of studying visually mediated cognition in invertebrates.
As it turns out, jumping spiders are perfect candidates because, unlike compound eyes, they have four pairs of specialized eyes, each with a single lens. Jumping spiders see the world with depth perception, color vision and “a retina with spatial acuity that greatly exceeds that of any other animal with eyes of comparable size.”
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