Researchers have found that wolf spiders don't want prey with good taste, they want prey that tastes good – and mustard is NOT their preferred condiment.
“Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?,” said no Wolf Spider ever. Never mind the fact that spiders can't talk... at least we know they're not fans of mustard, thanks to a team of sensory neuroscientists from Wake Forest University.
The researchers presented their findings at the Association for Chemoreception Sciences (AChemS) annual meeting in Bonita Springs, FL, presumably followed by a gala brunch.
Now don't go nominating these guys for the Ignoble Prize just yet. There may yet be some practical use for “spider repellents” and other such products inspired by the researcher's curious discovery. In the meantime, you're probably wondering just how a scientist discerns the appetites of an arachnid. Here comes the er, scientist!
According to team member C.J. "Jake" Saunders, researchers painted the legs of wolf spiders with natural chemicals such as capsaicin (from chili peppers), menthol (from mint leaves), and allyl isothiocyanate (AITC), the ingredient in mustard and wasabi that gives humans a sinus-clearing rush. They then watched the spiders to see if – and how vigorously – they groomed their legs.
While capsaicin had no effect and menthol appeared only slightly annoying, AITC sent the spiders into a leg-grooming frenzy. “It's like when you touch a chili pepper and then rub your eye, times eight,” added Saunders. “That grooming reaction is what we would call a robust behavior!”
Further study revealed that spiders react to the presence of irritating chemicals similarly to humans, opening the door to the use of spiders to test the potential harmfulness of new chemical formulations. Thanks, wolf spiders, you really can cut the mustard! (via PhysOrg, images via VSPYCC, David~O, and R. Crap Mariner)