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Study finds spiders likely sleep and dream a lot like people

Posted at 8:24 AM, Aug 10, 2022

Birds do it, people do it, even dogs do it. We all sleep, and dream as we slumber. But do spiders do it, too? It's a question that's keeping some scientists in Germany up at night.

They may be creepy and crawly, but the researchers have concluded that spiders may be more like us than we think. A new study from a team at the University of Konstanz in Germany has found that arachnids — specifically jumping spiders — can doze in a dream-like state, complete with rapid eye movement. Known as REM sleep, that's the deepest stage of sleep that helps us feel rested and stay healthy.

Scientists can't scan a spider's brain, and obviously can't quiz them about their dreams. So, the next best thing is to observe them at night.

"We actually see twitching and uncontrolled leg movements, coupled with actual retinal movements," said behavioral and evolutionary ecologist Daniela Roessler.

Roessler set up a lab to monitor baby spiders while they dangled at night.

"I personally do think that they're experiencing visual dreams," said Roessler, "but it will be very difficult to prove that scientifically."

Using night vision, the researchers watched jumping spiders attach themselves to silk anchors before catching some zzzzz's.

"They have little bursts of activity throughout the night that reoccur pretty regularly, and the durations are also very regular," explained Roessler.

The researchers said it was the first time that scientists had observed REM sleep in animals that don't have a backbone or spine. So, whether you have eight legs or two – it appears that everyone needs their beauty sleep.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

But what could spiders possibly dream about? Ask London zookeeper Jamie Mitchell, and he'll tell you: "I would imagine they're going to be dreaming about flies probably."