Crab spiders make their own tiny parachutes to ride the breeze. But what scientists wanted to see is the moments before they start floating.
These eight-legged aviators search for the perfect breeze, and they test them with their front legs. The research was published in the journal PLOS Biology, showing the spiders’ aeronautic prowess.
This is not the first study on spider flight, but this time, someone looked into the mechanism of the phenomenon. Both the silk balloons and the preference of weather conditions were analyzed.
Researchers watched crab spiders fly in natural winds in Berlin and then in the lab. In both environments, spiders tried the winds with their front legs before flying in the best direction.
“The pre-flight behaviors we observed suggest that crab spiders are evaluating meteorological conditions before their takeoff,” stated the study author Moonsung Cho (Technical University of Berlin). Cho added that “ballooning is likely not just a random launch into the wind, but one that occurs when conditions most favor a productive journey.”
If the breeze if favorable, the spider launches tens of 10-foot-long silk threads that create a triangular sheet and act as a parachute. The silk threads are 200 nanometers across – 500 times thinner than a human hair. While they launch, the sider will also deploy an anchoring line.
“From the viewpoint of spider silk, the air is like honey.” – Moonsung Cho
Cheryl Hayashi is a spider biologist with the American Museum of Natural History. She wasn’t involved in the study, but she was impressed with the details in the study:
“You need to see it to believe it. It gives you a deeper appreciation for how spiders have evolved to do this feat—they’re literally sailing through the air.”
The researchers discovered that the best cruise for a sailing spider is to have a breeze of almost seven miles per hour, and it has to come with a light updraft.
Crab spiders measure only 5 mm, so all arachnophobes can rest assured they’re not going to be attacked by huge flying spiders.
Hayashi concludes that the “spiders fine-tuned the use of these proteins for certain functions,” and that we could “get some ideas from them about aerodynamics and moving things through the air.”
Rex Austinwas born and raised in Thunder Bay Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Apart from running his own podcast (Ice Fishing And Other “Cool” Things), he spends his time canoeing and backpacking in Northern Ontario.. As a journalist Rex has published stories for Global News (Thunder Bay) we well as Buzz Feed and Joystiq. As a contributor to Great Lakes Ledger, Rex most covers science and health stories. Contact Rexhere