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A New Study Suggests That Spiders Dream

A new study focusing on the sleep patterns of jumping spiders registered rapid eye movement, which means it's possible that spiders dream.

Written by
Calin Van Paris

For some, spiders are the stuff of nightmares—and, as it turns out, the same arachnids may be having nighttime visions of their own. A new study focusing on the sleep patterns of jumping spiders suggests that spiders dream.

The intel comes from a team of former Harvard researchers, who studied 34 juvenile jumping spiders as they slumbered. Transparent exoskeletons provided an opportunity to observe the spiders’ rapid-eye movement, a deep-sleep state that indicates the possibility of dreams—a theory backed by accompanying physicalities like twitching.

Past research has shown around 5% of the population has a strong fear of spiders, but research like this makes it hard not to empathize with our eight-legged friends. And while some insects and animals do, unfortunately, demand to be eradicated, spiders are essential to our survival.

Spiders have evolved with humans in mind, making their homes in the comfort of our houses and protecting us and the planet by fielding pests, preventing disease and ecosystem failure. (Globally, spiders can consume 400-800 million tons of insects and invertebrates each year.) Between saving the world and weaving beautiful webs, spiders deserve some restful escapism.

Though proving definitively that spiders dream is an impossible task, one of the study's authors, Paul Shamble, tells the Harvard Gazette that it's the inquiry itself that's exciting. "Because the brains of these animals are so different from ours and their evolutionary history is so different from ours, it makes you start to wonder about if this kind of visual dreaming is just what visual brains do," he says.

And if dreaming is taking place, what exactly are spiders seeing in their sleep?

"I assume that they’re dreaming about their own lives, like what happens to them during the day, the same way that we do—some strange visual version of their own experience,” says Shamble. “That’s pretty profound.”