An amazing cartwheeling spider

May 11, 2014 • 11:19 am

From Discover Magazine‘s D-brief, by Carl Engelking, we get this amazing video of a spider that performs gymnastics to get out of danger.  I’m not a spider expert (though we have some here), so I’ll just quote the piece:

Peter Jäger, a taxonomist at the Seckenberg Research Institute in Germany, recently identified the new species of spider which lives in the desert of southeastern Morocco. Jäger nicknamed the spider “flic-flac” for the gymnastic flips it performs to avoid predators, the New York Times reports.

The spider, officially named Cebrennus rechenbergi, is a nocturnal creature that emerges nightly from its silk-woven, tube-like domicile in the sand to search for food. If threatened during its hunt, the spider executes the flipping maneuver, which increases its speed from 3.3 feet per second to 6.6. The spider can “flic-flac” uphill, downhill and on flat ground.

Unfortunately, the unique evasive technique consumes a lot of energy. If it performs this trick five to 10 times within one day, it will die, Jäger told the New York Times.

Jäger determined that the flic-flac spider was indeed a new species based on minute differences in its sex organs from the closely related Cebrennus villosus in Tunisia. He published his findings April in the journal Zootaxa.

Watch this and gawk; evolution is cleverer than you are:

Oh, and the robotic spider?

Ingo Rechenberg, a bionics expert from Berlin, was the first to discover the flic-flac spider on an expedition to Morocco. He passed it on to Jäger for taxonomic identification. Rechenberg, inspired by the spider’s mode of locomotion, designed a spider robot that moves in a similar fashion across the sand, according to Science Daily.

You can see that the robot isn’t that great a model for the spider. For one thing, the spider actually does its cartwheels largely in the air, while the robot stays on the ground and has to retract the legs that are touching the ground. In fact, I’m not sure why they made the robot at all, except for fun.

h/t: Grania

11 thoughts on “An amazing cartwheeling spider

  1. 6.6 fps sounded really fast until I did the math (4.5 mph). Actually that’s a brisk walk. Pretty fast for a spider in any case. I have a hard time just walking on sand.

  2. Since someone (i. e., I) will ask, the spider is in the family Sparassidae, the huntsman or giant crab spiders.

    The spider is cooler than the robot…

  3. For the rest of the world, 2 m/s or 7 km/h.

    I’m not sure why they made the robot at all, except for fun.

    Bionic experts tries to perfect their craft by trying out new solutions, and those can also have new usages.

    That flic-flac motion is already investigated by NASA for lightweight tensegrity rovers. (See here (Sequence starts at 15 s.) Sorry if it embeds, I tried something new.)

  4. “I’m not sure why they made the robot at all, except for fun.”

    That seems like that might be enough. Maybe they can mass produce and market these things as toys — I know some kids who’d be amused by one. “Spider Robot! Get yours now, just $39,95!”

  5. Hmm, Ingo Rechenberg… that name immediately rang a bell:

    Rechenberg is a pioneer of the fields of evolutionary computation and artificial evolution. In the 1960s and 1970s he invented a highly influential set of optimization methods known as evolution strategies (from German Evolutionsstrategie). His group successfully applied the new algorithms to challenging problems such as aerodynamic wing design. These were the first serious technical applications of artificial evolution, an important subset of the still growing field of bionics.

    (Wiki link)

  6. Must be something about spiders. There is another species known as the Golden Wheel spider (Carparachne aureoflava) that turns itself into a wheel and rolls away from its predator. It occurs in sand dunes in the NAmib desert.

  7. I’m not an expert on this spider either. Besides its flic-flacking, the other thing that’s cool to me about this spider is that, like so many other “araneomorph” spiders, it can make major ampullate silk–the silk araneomorphs hang from–yet it lives in a burrow underground instead of making a web. One more demonstration that evolution is not “aiming” at anything in particular. Or in other words, chalk up one more piece of evidence for Why Evolution Is True!

  8. I hear “Ein Radlerspinne!” – a cyclist spider. Radler is also a kind of beer. A local brewer made a brand they called Radler, and was told to desist for copyright/patent reasons. They called it “Cyclist” instead.

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