How Spider-Sense Works

How Spider-Sense Works

– This episode of Because Science is brought to you by Destiny 2: Forsaken. I have a confession to make, I’ve been trying to science
Spiderman for years now and every time I have
been asked to look into the so called Spidey-sense, I’ve dismissed it out of hand without ever really looking into it. And now that I have, I have to apologize. I was so wrong. Spiders have tarsal claws down some of the most amazing
senses of any organisms on this planet. If Peter Parker had spider senses, they would definitely make him amazing. Ooooohhhhh. Spiderman’s Spidey-sense
has been a part of Peter Parker’s webatoir
since the hero first swung into the pages of Marvel Comics all the way back in 1963. Since then, comics, movies and video games have depicted spider-sense
as a feeling or premonition that something is about to happen or that something,
somewhere is going wrong. It’s an almost magical sixth sense without a solid biological backing. Like I said, you don’t
have to look any further than real spider senses
to make Spidey-sense make sense, sense. So let’s ignore the
weird precognitive stuff in the name of science and give this power
that biological backing. Spiders and many other
terrestrial arthropods like crickets, have three
main sensory systems that could add up to
theoretically give a spiderperson a spectacular sense of their surroundings. Two of these systems use tiny hairs to detect touch and motion, tactile hairs and trichobothria. The third uses a fascinating little organ called slit sensilla. Let’s start with the tactile hairs, as they are the closest thing to a sense that we are familiar with. Oh you’re a big boy. The most common sensory
structures in the animal kingdom aren’t eyes or ears, they are hairs. Most of the human body is
covered in hair of some type and all of those hairs add up along with other receptors in your skin to give us an exquisite sense of touch. We can feel if even a
single hair is disturbed. Ooh, excelsior. We mostly hairless apes have about 60 hairs per square centimeter
of surface area of skin. Which makes our sensitivity
to physical disturbance, our mechanoreception, pretty good. Spiders though, are on another level. They have around 40,000
hairs in the same amount of surface area and they
have up to three nerves per hair for sensation,
whereas we only have one. Wow. Hey if you were that big, how are you even breathing right now, cause I’m pretty sure if
you scaled up your volume based on your… These thousands of spider tactile hairs, like human tactile hairs, will trigger a sensation in the animal if they are deflected a certain amount. Like pushing or pulling a simple lever. The threshold of force though
that will trigger a response from a spider is unbelievably small. A spider’s tactile hairs
will respond to a force less than half a micronewton. This is only five times more force than a hydrogen atom’s
nucleus puts on it’s electron. It’s hard to even conceptualize
how gentle that is. So if Peter Parker’s hairs somehow mutated along with the rest of his body to become as numerous as a spider’s hairs and acquired this kind
of extreme sensitivity, it would be the first part of
an impressive spider-sense. Sorry. From our perspective it
would be like he’s able to feel touches before they even happen. Sorry. Spider-like tactile hairs
would make Spiderman intensely attentive to touch, which would be a good place to
start for a real spider-sense especially considering that in the movies, we’ve seen Peter Parker
grow spider-like hairs. But spiders other senses
are even more impressive. They can feel things that
aren’t even touching them. The second spider sensing
system is trichobothria or hairs that feel for
fluid flow, like moving air. These hairs look like
the spiders tactile hairs and they’re even located
in the same place, but these are evolved to feel for even the slightest breeze and I do mean slightest. For example, trichobothria
are so sensitive, they can pick up the minute
atmospheric disturbances that a flies wings produce from up to a few body lengths away from a spider. This would be like you being
able to feel your friend wave at you from across the room. Oh he is friendly, that’s nice. This air-hair isn’t just really
responsive spider stubble, it is, as one review by
Freidrich G. Barth put it, one of the most finely
tuned biological sensors in all of nature. Modeling trichobothria as simple levers, scientists have estimated that the amount of energy
it would take to elicit a response from these
hairs is on the order of 10 zeptojoules. I’ve never even said that
prefix out loud before. This is in theory so little energy that a spider’s
trichobothria would respond to a laser pointer. It would respond to the pressure of light. Less friendly, ahh! One day, all the way back
in 1827, Scottish botanist and smart boy Robert
Brown, was looking through a microscope at pollen
particles suspended in water. What he saw was something like this. The pollen particles were
moving around randomly when he assumed they should be still. Cut to 78 years later and the
smart boy, Albert Einstein, publishing a paper that
described this motion. Einstein argued that the
pollen particles were being batted around randomly by
physical atoms and molecules in the water, moving around randomly. At that time, in 1905,
the physical existence of atoms and molecules
had not yet been proven. Einstein’s findings were
eventually confirmed and accepted and this
was one of Einstein’s first great contributions to science. Today the random motion
of atoms and molecules in a fluid is called Brownian Motion, in honor of Robert Brown. And I told you that
story to tell you this, spider trichobothria are, in theory, sensitive enough to feel Brownian Motion. To feel, against their
hairs, the individual impacts of atoms and molecules. This represents a spider-sense
that is an almost perfectly evolved material interaction
at the very edge of physics. Real trichobothria could
plausibly play a huge part of a real spider-sense. Being able to feel your enemies
move through the atmosphere at a distance would be a huge advantage but the last arachnoid sense
would take all of this biology from spider to super. The final component of a
spider’s sensory system are the slit sensilla, which are mechanoreceptory organs in the spider’s exoskeleton
that are unlike anything that we humans feel with. These organs sound fancy but
they actually are rather simple In the spiders legs, near the joints, there are rows of parallel channels where the exoskeleton
has been thinned out. If the spider’s leg moves or bends in response to some vibration or force in the substrate or ground
that the spider is standing on or touching, these slit sensilla will deform like accordions. By now, it should not surprise you that the amount of vibration
it takes to alert a spider is astonishingly small. Scientists have found that
these sensilla can alert spiders to forces near them that are as small as point zero one micronewtons. This is less than half a
percent the body weight of a single cockroach. That means, that if I were
to just take a single step I would…oh, I guess I’m…ahhhhh! Basically if a nearby force or vibration moves a spider’s legs at
all, it’s going to feel it. If I was moving around next to it, a spider about that size
would be able to feel if I caused it’s legs to bend
just a billionth of a meter but that’s so small it’s hard to visualize so let’s increase the spider size. Bigger. Bigger. Bigger. Bigger. Keep going! If that spider got big enough that it was over 100 kilometers across, that it could reach up
with one of it’s legs and touch space, it would still be able to
feel if any one of it’s legs deformed, literally that much. Just a single millimeter or a millimeter Parker. Argh. If whatever mutations Peter Parker got from that radioactive spider indeed enabled him to do whatever
a spider could do, then I think that using an
array of arachnid sense systems web-head could absolutely
approximate a sixth sense, at least as sensitive as
human eyesight or hearing. Slit sensilla scaled up to human size might be able to pick up
an approaching bad guy or at least a rampaging rhino. Trichobothria on Spiderman
might be able to pick up the minute atmospheric disturbances from an incoming projectile or even the pressure from the light of a gunman’s laser site,
which is ridiculous. Real spider senses operate at the limits of the physically possible and if that doesn’t
sound like super powers, I don’t know what does. So, how does spider-sense really work? Well I don’t think you
have to look any further than the arachnids themselves. Spiders have some of
the most delicate senses in all of biology and if Peter Parker had them, I think he could approximate
something like we see in the comic books and the movies. Of course, he would have to find a way to make those tiny hairs
work underneath his suit and sure, slit sensilla
are only in exoskeltons and not endoskeletons like we have, but being the science wiz that he is, I bet that Parker could
find a work around, because if he was truly a spider man, he would feel so good, Mr. Stark. Because science. Everyone gets one right, yeah! Oh, oh why is it hot? Oh it’s like al dente spaghetti. (techno music) So let’s say that you were
a more realistic version of Spiderman and let’s say
you were, I don’t know, in New York and a giant
spaceship appeared over New York, which would feasibly cause a
giant atmospheric disturbance, perhaps if your hairs
were like spider hairs they’d stand up on end like trichobothria. Oh wait, does that happen? Confirmed. Thank you again to Destiny 2: Forsaken for sponsoring this
episode of Because Science. Destiny 2: Forsaken introduces
new mechanics, weapons, gear and powers for all
the new Destiny players to rise up against the Cabal and take back what is theirs. Forsaken pumps up the chaos and mayhem to a whole new level
including nine, yes nine, new super abilities to choose from. Bring the pain down with
a new devastating hammer or throw flame daggers to
eviscerate your enemies or teleport around them and
release a monstrous blast and so much more. Another addition Forsaken
is bringing to Destiny 2 is the bow and arrow for precise
annihilation of your foes. Boost your character with new exotic gear to get that edge in the arena. All of this with new areas to explore, new raids and a brand new Gambit game mode makes this a must-have for all
hardcore Destiny 2 guardians. Pick up Destiny 2: Forsaken, right now. Thank you so much for watching, Celia. Thank you so much to Phil Torres for his help on this episode. He discovers new species
of spiders in the Amazon and I’m totally jealous. If you want more of me, check out or Alpha at where if you go now you can sign up for a free trial, get this show two days
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100 thoughts on “How Spider-Sense Works”

  1. Thanks for watching. I wasn't kidding — until my friend pointed me at some papers, I had no idea spider senses were so spectacular. Hope this blew your mind like it did mine. Also, lots of comments about sponsorships, but that's just how digital businesses run these days, and sometimes the sponsor doesn't line up exactly with the topic. But that's fine! Enjoy any video game you want. Video games for all! — KH

  2. hmmm, wasn't stan lee jewish? why, then are you not saying SpiderMUN., Rascist jokes no longer funny?

  3. Seeing the suit was made by Tony Stark, I'm pretty sure he'd find a way to make sure Spiderman's senses still worked to their optimal level.

  4. Wouldn't all this added micro sensation be painfull? Given that he could theoretically feel the pressure from photons, wouldn't this in turn make something as simple as clapping his hands extricating? Keep in mind, he's a super hero, meaning he regularly gets hit with super human strength. How he hasn't gone insane from all this constant, unimaginable pain has to be a super power on its own, just saying

  5. Why is it hot? Hahaha that wasnt the spider web that was the man web hahaha if he was a DC character u cud just call him the splash hahaha

  6. Could the nature of our skin work like the slits? Perhaps the changes to the hairs also changed the pores or maybe the fibers holding the dermis(i?) together?

  7. Oh, man…and I was JUST watching a show about the mating dance and singing of hoppy spiders! (Jumping spiders, as they're officially called.)

  8. Is it possible that if Peter Parker or Spiderman went blind would those senses increase because most spiders can only see shadows they are Extremely blind also some for them are def as well so if Spiderman was DEF would those powers increase even more what are he even have to see or hear

  9. Problem is, much like other senses, Parker wouldn't be able to "shut it off" and unlike our other senses, having not been born with it, not only would his neurology have to drastically change to process this information, he would be constantly bombarded with so much that it would either drive him insane or wash together into sensory "white noise" of Uselessness.
    It's a cool idea, but still ridiculous.

  10. But wait how does the spider no get overwhelmed? Would you be invisible to him if all of his senses are tingling at once?

  11. Having something like that to human scale would suck because how we live the "spider sense" would fire all the time and almost constantly, so spidy's life would kinda suck

  12. Does that explain why they curl up into a ball when you hit them but not hard enough to kill them. Is it because they are in a paralyzing amount of pain from all their receptors going crazy?

  13. In dnd the last one is known as tremorsense 😛
    Though if he had all three of these extra senses ontop of what humans have, wouldn't giving Peter Parker a high five stun him from sensory overload?

  14. "millimeter parker"= "millimeter peter" come on nobody gonna talk about how he made a well timed dick joke

  15. Did he reference the Doctor Who episode where the mutated spiders literally suffocated when they got too big? Hard to tell, because SCIENCE.

  16. Slitsinsila could just be in his bone tips. Even with the flesh and costume covering it, they should still be sensitive enough to feel the changes in the environment

  17. I’m curious if these senses are similar across all spider species or if they vary. Like does a tarantula or huntsman spider feel things similarly to a black widow

  18. could humans ever theoretically train their body to have similar senses, like how i have tried since i was very young. i used to go somewhere i didn't know, sit down with my eyes closed, and try to map out the area based on the sounds, and air. I got to the point to where I knew things before others did. it helped greatly paired with my video gaming. I would play games like call of duty with blaring music from spotify into my headphones when camping with a melee weapon and i could still identify individual sounds and footsteps seperately from the song. My friends found this awesome but also found it weird that I couldn't do it without the music. without the music, i would hear everything and over react and it would throw me off. I believe that could be that for things to be loud enough to register higher than the music, they would have to be a certain range away and thus, i would only sense the important stuff. however, that also fits with the new spiderman movies, ex: civil war. spiderman purposefully has tight lenses on his suit to limit his sight because without it, it's too much input and he can't respond. I had a similar situation with when people were near and with sensing my surroundings. whenever someone would be near, i would hear a faint ringing or buzzing, like the faint sound from a tv that's on if you've ever listened to a muted tv. i could never explain it, but it always happened. even when i was super young, i would get woken up just by the cat walking through the hallway outside my room. with these senses, i always told my friends that because of the sitting and trying to map out the area, i had trained myself to feel the atoms of air and sound moving around me like a blind man might use echo location. i was never quite sure if any of that could be true, or if i'm just weird. did constant high speed video gaming have any change to my senses? Any insight?

  19. I'm confused because as far as I know light doesn't have mass nor weight, so how can they feel some sort of pressure from a laser beam?

  20. So spiders could literally feel the infrared radiation from a person/animals body heat.

    Spiders literally know if someone is looking at them.

  21. I think this is taking comics way too seriously. Plus his spider-sense is connected to Madame Web's in some way, I can't explain it I just remember that's all.

  22. That just makes me even more scared of giant spiders just think about it giant spiders would be such good predators that humanity would have no chances

  23. But that's not how his Spider Sense works. You're just relating a normal spider's abilities to what Peter Parker can do. His spider sense is constantly going off, and he had to learn what to respond to. Sometimes it backfires and he ignores vital flags and gets hurt. Not to mention when he web swings, his spider sense let's him know where to aim his webbing to avoid sticking to crumbling or rotted material. Plus with Venom and Miles being able to attack him without his senses going off further solidifies the fact that his spider sense isn't based off of an actual spider, but rather a new manifested sense that normal humans can't comprehend.

    Because science…..fiction.

  24. Not to make it weird but this (to varying degrees) is why erogenous zones work the way they do. They aren't reading hair movement, but they ARE reading pressure on the skin, relating this to the CNS, and passing it further. This allowed the body to identify the zone in which the body is both comfortable and aroused. There is a zone for that, and it is VERY much individual to the person.

  25. i mean the real question here is actually: If Peter Parker picked a peck of pickled peppers, how many pickled peppers, does Peter Parker Pick? Does he Peter parker Parcour while picking pickled peppers? that is the real question.

  26. I just watched Avengers: Infinity War, so those references to Spider-Man in that movie were especially interesting!
    And dangit, now I want to shine a laser pointer on a spider and see its reaction!

  27. Hey @kyle, if his spider hair is so sensitive, wouldn't that mean out friendly neighbour would feel all the more pain? 🤔

  28. It's odd that Destiny would sponsor a video about spider man, with imagery from the new spider man game, which is an infinitely better game haha

  29. What if he has a second skeleton over his own sort of like an exotic skeleton but still underneath and these hairs and organs are under his skin but the hairs reach through his skin. Couldn't that also explain why he's so durable

  30. Wow I actually learned spiders are really, I wouldn't say cool cause i still wanna stomp all of them i see out but..i guess interesting.

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