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For these jumping spiders, stayin' alive requires all the right dance moves—and the perfect soundtrack, too.

About This Video

Grade level: 6-13+
Length: 7.5 minutes
Next Generation Science Standards: MS-LS1.B, MS-LS4.B, HS-LS4.B, HS-LS4.C
AP Biology Enduring Understandings: 1.A

Summary

It’s a rich and complex performance—at once lyrical, highly choreographed, and potentially deadly. Every day, right under our noses, tiny jumping spiders engage in elaborate acts of synchronized seduction. For them, it’s a right of passage, one that’s critical to their species’ survival. Males dance to win the acceptance—and avoid the jaws—of picky potential mates. And to enhance their dance, the males provide their own multi-instrumental accompaniment—personal vibratory songs that they create through lightning-fast movements of their legs and abdomens. Damian Elias, an evolutionary biologist at UC Berkeley, has made it his life’s work to understand the breadth and complexity of these spider serenades, which, until recently, were impossible to perceive by human senses. Armed with spider decoys, high-speed cameras, and laser listening devices that allow him to act, see, and hear like a spider, Elias and his colleagues are discovering what combination of ability, grace, and swagger allows jumping spiders to discern which individuals offer the best potential in a mate. And they’re finding that these dances may in fact play a critical role in the evolution and differentiation of new jumping spider species.

Video Discussion Questions

  1. What do male jumping spiders do to try to convince females to mate with them?
  2. What do females do to male spiders if they don't like their courtship display or isn't interested? Why do you think this is? What do you think the evolutionary consequences of this are?
  3. How do the researchers in this video use high-speed video and laser listening devices to study the courtship displays of male jumping spiders? What is their experimental set-up?
  4. What kinds of things is a female jumping spider looking for in the male's displays?
  5. Why do you think more closely related species have similar courtship displays, while more distantly related species have less similar displays?

Classroom Activities to Accompany This Video:

3-2-1

3-2-1

Have students choose a time lapse sequence from this video and watch it without sound. In their science notebooks, ask students to write down:

  • 3 things they noticed or observed
  • 2 questions they have or things they wonder about, and
  • 1 thing they learned

On the board, draw a table with three columns labeled 'I noticed...', 'I wonder...', and 'I learned...'. Have students discuss their observations, questions, and knowledge gained, and write these things in the appropriate column on the board. In addition to the following questions, you can use the About This Video section to engage your students in a deeper dive into the mating rituals of jumping spiders:

  1. What is the purpose of time-lapse video?
  2. How can time-lapse video be used in research, particularly in jumping spider mating ritual research?
  3. What jumping spider behaviors can you observe with the time-lapse video that you wouldn't necessarily be able to observe otherwise?
  4. What other applications of time-lapse video can you think of?

Strut Your Stuff

Peacock

Jumping spiders aren't the only animals that have evolved elaborate courtship displays. What other courtship behaviors have evolved in the animal world, and why?

This lesson can be used to introduce a larger unit on natural selection.  

Focus Question: Why do many animals, including humans, use elaborate methods for courting each other? 

Activity time: 90-120 minutes

1. Show students one or more of the following videos (or find your own 'promposal' video on YouTube), then ask students why they think the teen(s) in the video went to such lengths to secure a prom date:
ABC News: Seniors find creative way to ask their dates to prom
San Francisco Chronicle: Popping the promposal question

2. Next, show students the Spider Seduction video, and have them compare the male spiders' behavior in this video to the teens' behavior in the previous video(s).

3. Write the Focus Question on the board. Randomly assign each group of 3 students one of the following animals: Black widow spider, Bowerbird, Sage grouse, Torquigener albomaculosus (white-spotted pufferfish), Hooded seal, Loddigesia mirabilis (species of hummingbird), Manakin bird, Eastern fence lizard, Bird of paradise, Impala

4. Students should research what the males of their assigned animal do to attract females for mating and prepare a presentation to share with the class. The goal of their presentation is to make a case for why the males of their species have the best strategies for attracting a potential mate.  Things to consider:

  • What kinds of risks are the males taking to attract a mate?
  • How much time do males devote to courtship?  How hard do they work? 
  • How impressive, elaborate, and involved are the males' displays of courtship?

5. After each group has presented, the class will vote on who made the best case.  Ask for volunteers to share reasons for why they voted the way they did.

6. Individually, students should spend about 5-10 minutes creating a concept map around the Focus Question in their science notebooks using the information they learned so far in this exercise. Then, have them discuss and compare their concept maps in their small groups.

7. (In class or for homework) Ask students to read the following article individually: Courtship rituals in the animal world

8. Triad: Students will designate one person in their group to be an explainer, one to be a questioner, and one to be a recorder. The explainer will describe to the questioner what they learned from the article, and the questioner will ask the explainer questions. The recorder will record the main points they hear from the conversation. Students will switch roles and repeat the exercise until each student has been in every role. Note: If students read the article for homework, you can have them write a short reflection instead.

9. Lead a class discussion.  At the end of the discussion, have students add to their concept map any new information they have learned or connections they have made.  Then, have them individually write out their answer to the Focus Question, making sure to support their answer using the evidence and information they learned throughout this exercise. You can collect and evaluate both the concept maps and written answers to assess your students' learning.

Extension: Focus Questions for Further Learning

  • Can you think of any examples of females displaying elaborate courtship displays?
  • Why do you think it's more common for males to show courtship displays to female rather than the other way around?
  • (Unit end goal) Can you use the concepts of natural selection and evolution to describe how an elaborate courtship behavior might arise in a species?

 

Image credit: Mateusz Drogowski

Video Credits

Produced by Spine Films, this video appears in bioGraphic, a magazine powered by the California Academy of Sciences to showcase both the wonder of nature and the most promising approaches to sustaining life on Earth.

Additional Resources

The Mating Game
In this interactive animal dating game from KQED, help contestants find the right mates so that they can pass on their genes to the next generation. 

Article: Guide and Deception: The Evolution of Animal Courtship
Learn more about how sexual selection has led to some pretty interesting and bizarre physical ornamentation in males of certain species in this New York Times article.

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