Ask Your Weird Animal Questions: Jumping Spiders, Angry Cats

Dogs are known for their outstanding scenting and trailing abilities. Dogs can also detect diverse odors like explosives and narcotics. Can elephants do the same? —Liselle S., Philippines 

“They do. They track each other,” said John Lenhardt of the National Elephant Center, a refuge in Florida.

An African elephant in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Photograph by Beverly Joubert, National Geographic Creative

“They’ve been observed in the wild to raise their trunk and move towards the area of storms”—rain means more plants, which in turns leads to more food for the elephants.

Males can also tell when a female is in heat or soon will be and males will follow those females. (See “Elephants Use Their Trunks to Ace Intelligence Tests.”)

This question comes from the story “Elephants Have 2000 Genes for Smell—Most Ever Found,” which revealed elephants have twice the smell genes of that superlative sniffer, the domestic dog.

Theoretically, elephants could perform the same tasks as sniffing and tracking dogs, but so far they haven’t been employed for such uses.

“It’s a lot harder to get an elephant in an airport sniffing bags,” Lehnhardt quipped.

I was sitting outside on my patio furniture and noticed a jumping [spider]. Next thing I know it was a foot away… I felt a web started from my hand to the spider looking at me. Is that normal the spider did that? —Amanda, USA

Today I saw this little [spider], about 2 [millimeters] big. Does it have six eyes? —Snorre Tønset, Oslo, Norway

When it rains jumping spiders, it pours.

We got three questions from readers about encounters with jumping spiders. Jo-Anne Nina Sewlal, a spider expert at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad, weighed in on these agile arachnids.

Jumping spiders have eight eyes, not six, and they’re a big plus for the visual predators, said Sewlal. The animals pose “no threat to human health. They are more interested in insects around the house,” she said. (Watch “video: Spiders Jump with Deadly Accuracy in Green Light.”)

As for possibly starting a web on a person’s hand, Sewlal says that jumping spiders are hunters—they don’t spin webs to catch prey. What Amanda felt may have been a dragline.

Jumping spiders will climb to a high spot, release a line of silk, and when there’s a wind, the dragline will blow and carry the spider with it—an expedient way to cover long distances. (Related: “How Do Spiders Fly For Miles? Mystery Solved.”)

Plus, if Amanda was sitting quite still, “the spider may not have viewed her as a threat,” Sewlal said.

My cat hates visitors! She hisses and growls and sometimes even spits! She has been fixed and is only 9 months old. She LOVES my family but hates strangers. I need help!—Sydney, Saskatchewan, Canada

Barbara Sherman, a veterinary behaviorist at North Carolina State University, suggests putting your cat in a safe, comfortable room with food, toys, and a litter box so she can relax until what it perceives as stranger danger has passed.

Integrating a fearful cat with strangers takes a little more effort. (Related: “What Do Cats Think About Us? You May Be Surprised.”)

“Have the owner sit with the cat—[give it] treats and [its] favorite kind of petting,” perhaps with a harness and leash for safety’s sake, Sherman advises. Then bring a person the cat knows into the room, but have that person stand far away from the animal. That trains the cat to see that an extra person is no big deal—even pleasant—because of the treats and petting.

Next time, try having a visitor come into the room and do the same thing, ignoring the cat even if it starts to approach the visitor. It can also help to provide a perch for the cat to sit on to observe the goings-on from a safe distance, she added.

From the cat’s point of view, Sherman said, “that’s very different than a situation in which you are approached by a person you don’t know coming straight at you and reaching for you.” (Watch a video about the secret lives of cats.)

If repeated, the cat should feel more comfortable around visitors.

Got a question about the weird and wild animal world? Tweet me or leave me a note or photo in the comments below. You can also follow me on Facebook.



Meet the Author
Liz Langley is the award-winning author of Crazy Little Thing: Why Love and Sex Drive Us Mad and has written for many publications including Salon, Details and the Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter @LizLangley and at