Most of us have made acquaintances with spiders that those creepy crawlies might remember fondly or – not so fondly. Maybe you tried to kill a spider, but it managed to run away, and now you live in fear of its revenge. Maybe you decided to spare a spider’s life and carry it outside, and are wondering whether you have made a grateful friend for life. In each case, the question is: Do spiders remember you?
No, that is highly unlikely! While it is true that some spiders have very good eyesight, trying to remember a human face for them would be like trying to remember a certain cloud formation for us. To them, we are immensely big, constantly in motion – due to constant muscle twitching and facial expressions – and thus rather vague but vaguely threatening.
While some pet spiders might get used to certain feeding times or being handled, they do no possess facial recognition and usually do not change their behavior with regards to who is handling them – provided that each person is equally competent in handling spiders, of course.
Spiders do have a sense of smell, at least kind of. They cannot taste with their mouth, but chemo-sensitive hairs on their legs tell them whether an object or being is consumable. Some spiders also give off a chemical that either warns other spiders to stay away or displays that they are looking for a mate.
While with regards to these very specific chemicals their sense of smell is very strong, this cannot be generalized. Spiders are not capable of recognizing and differentiating humans by their smell like a dog would do.
Their sense of hearing is similarly useless when it comes to differentiating humans. Spiders might be able to hear you walk and talk, but to distinguish one human from another is not possible for them!
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Lastly, the vision of spiders is probably what fascinates and impresses us the most. Spiders usually have eight eyes (some also have only six), but that does not mean that they can see very well. Most spiders can only distinguish between light and dark, some can also detect polarized light, which helps them navigate while hunting.
Thus, most spiders only see the world as vague shapes in shades of grey, which is not the optimal condition for recognizing faces, human or otherwise.
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There are some spiders, like jumping spiders, flower spiders, wolf spiders, and net-casting spiders, that have a more developed sense of vision. They each have eyes that are developed to fulfill a certain function. Wolf spiders, for example, have reflector eyes – this means, if you shine a flashlight in their direction, four big shiny eyes will stare back at you.
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This helps them to see the movement of their prey in low-light conditions. Jumping spiders are even suggested to have color vision. They can also track the movements of their prey very accurately and then leap onto it. All those special eyes still do not mean that they can recognize humans, though.
Do Spiders Feel Pain?
Giving that the sensory experiences of spiders are so different from those of us humans, it makes sense to wonder whether their experience of pain is similar to ours. Even though it is everyone’s favorite fun fact that spiders are not insects, in this case, we might look at them as equal to insect in the way that pain reception in spiders functions.
And while insects (and spiders) avoid painful, damaging experiences, this is not the same as suffering from pain like us humans do.
For humans, pain is always mainly a psychological state, even though it often has physical causes. This becomes obvious if we think of the fact that every person has a different pain threshold, and take into account phenomena like phantom pain.
Thus, it is necessary to differentiate between the psychological, subjective experience of pain, and nociception, the neural process of encoding noxious stimuli, of recognizing and avoiding stimuli that are potentially damaging. Whereas insects have nociception and avoid anything that damages their body, they do not experience pain in the same way that humans (and other mammals!) do.
Insects do not behave in a way that displays the intensity of a painful experience; they do not limp or rub the spot where the injury occurred.