"A New Way to Hear,"
Alan meets Damian Elias, whose original research uncovered
the previously unknown mating songs male jumping spider use
to woo females. Elias, who is working on his Ph. D. at Cornell
University, didn't always want to be a scientist, but became
interested in the process during a class other kids thought
was boring. FRONTIERS asked Elias about his work with the
Arizona jumping spider.
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did you become interested in studying animals?
family were cattle ranchers, so I was always around nature
- even though I didn't appreciate it at the time. That's where
I started to like animals and become interested in the outdoors.
I wanted to direct movies.
wanted to do that for a long time, and I went to college with
that in mind. But, when I was in high school, I took a science
class that I really liked. I think we were doing things that
I guess most people in the class found boring, but I was really
excited about it and enjoyed it.
was an ecology class, environmental science. We made a transect
- a square - and then you have a lot of plants and animal
life inside it. Then we had to go in there and count all the
types of plants and all the types of insects and all the things
we found in there. My classmates couldn't believe we had to
count 500 leaves and things like that. But I thought it was
did science become something you considered as a career?
My classmates couldn't believe we had to count 500
leaves and things. But I thought it was really cool.
I went to college and I realized that I didn't think I wanted
to direct movies - or at least go into that industry- I remembered
that class. I thought, "Well, I was good at those science
things, so I'll try that." So, as an undergraduate, I studied
ecology and evolutionary biology.
the thing that really did it was, I got a job in the lab.
It was there I found out that research was a viable option,
that it was enjoyable, really fun and really fulfilling. I
worked in a lot of labs on a lot of different critters. I
worked on moths, grasshoppers, aphids and ants. So I worked
on a lot of little tiny arthropods.
did you end up studying spiders?
started to really like jumping spiders in college in an evolutionary
biology class. I had an instructor there, Wayne Madison, who
works on jumping spiders. I saw them there for the first time
and thought they were really cool.
degree is going to be in neurobiology and behavior. With the
spiders, I'm studying neuroethology, which is the neural basis
of the most spectacular things about jumping spiders is their
mating dances. They're just really visually striking, especially
if you look at them under a microscope. Just absolutely spectacular.
It's really fun to think about how the male is coordinating
all these little intricate movements with his legs. Meanwhile,
the female is using all these things to assess his quality.
It's just a neat thing and it's why I am interested in animal
behavior. These are really complex issues in a neat little
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