Dr Thomas Hesselberg

Profile details


Dr Thomas Hesselberg completed his first degree in biological sciences at Aarhus Universitet in Denmark and did his PhD in biomimetics at the University of Bath. He teaches widely, both here at the Department, at St. Anne's College and at the University's Department of Zoology, where he is a tutor in Animal Behaviour for second and third year students in biological sciences, and supervisor for Final Honours School undergraduate project students. From 2009 – 2011 he was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Oxford, doing research on the interface between animal behaviour and comparative biomechanics using the orb spider and its web as a model organism.

At OUDCE, Thomas is Co-Director of the Postgraduate Certificate in Ecological Survey Techniques on which he also teaches the data analysis for ecologists module and he is the Director of Studies in Biological Sciences.

Research Interests

Animal Behaviour, Arachnology, Behavioural Ecology, Biomimetics, Cave ecology, Comparative Biomechanics, Comparative Physiology, Invertebrate Zoology, Neuro-ethology


My research focuses on how behaviour in invertebrates, primarily orb spiders and their webs, is shaped by internal physiological and external environmental factors. In particular, I am interested in how behaviour in general and behavioural plasticity in particular has evolved to cope with the constraints imposed by a relatively limited brain capacity and with the biomechanical constraints imposed by morphological and external physical factors as well as silk material properties. The goal is to increase our basic understanding of how small-brained animals use simple decision-making rules to perform complex behaviours. In addition to its intrinsic biological interest, this line of research is of potential interest to designers of biologically inspired robots and other biomimetic technologies.

Academic memberships and duties

  • Research Associate, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford (2011 - present)
  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (2014 – present)
  • Expert Evaluator for EU Erasmus+ Strategic Partnerships projects for the National Agency in Denmark (2014 – present)
  • External Examiner on the BSc in Applied Zoology, Moulton College
  • External Examiner on the BSc in Biological Sciences, University of Surrey
  • Grant reviewer for the British Ecological Society

Professional organisation and society memberships

Selected Recent Publications

Hart A., Hesselberg, T., Nesbit, R. and Goodenough, A. E. (2018). The spatial distribution and environmental triggers of ant mating flights: using citizen‐science data to reveal national patterns. Ecography 41, 877-888.

Lenau. T. A., Metze, A.-L. and Hesselberg, T. (2018). Paradigms for biologically inspired design. Proc. SPIE 10593, Bioinspiration, Biomimetics, and Bioreplication VIII, 1059302

Tew, N. and Hesselberg, T. (2017). The effect of wind exposure on the web characteristics of a tetragnathid orb spider. Journal of Insect Behavior 30, 273-286.

Hesselberg, T. (2015). Exploration behaviour and behavioural flexibility in orb-web spiders: A review. Current Zoology 61, 313-327.

Tew, E. R., Adamson, A. and Hesselberg, T. (2015). The web repair behaviour of an orb spider. Animal Behaviour 103, 137-146.

For a full list of publications, see my Google Scholar Profile.