Metaphors and anthropomorphism are probably inevitable when dealing with animal behavior, but imposing human motivations or stereotypes can also get in our way of understanding what's really going on. Science reports on one study that looks at how we describe spiders who eat their mates. The study finds that female spiders who practice sexual cannibalism are described in terms like "voracious" or "rapacious" in research papers, while the male spiders being consumed are described as trying to "escape" or making a "sacrifice" — something that makes sense in human terms, but doesn't necessarily apply to evolutionarily adaptive behaviors in spiders.

The problem? When we resort to human explanations, we can miss the real details of how animals act, or use loose descriptions that won't be helpful to future researchers. "It might seem to human eyes vicious to eat your mate," says researcher Emily Burdfield-Steel, "but that is just the spider being the spider."