Researchers have discovered that one species of spider native to Central and South America possesses a surprising talent: it can fly! Sort of.
According to a paper published in Interface, the Royal Society’s peer-reviewed journal, the spiders likely adapted the trait to help them move from one treetop perch to another while avoiding the risk of predation.
This skill isn’t true flight, but it’s close. The lead author of the paper, Stephen Yanoviak of the University of Louisville, noted that the spiders are capable of some astounding aerobatics between takeoff and touchdown.
According to Science Recorder, no matter which position they’re in the moment they drop, the spiders are able to quickly rearrange their legs and shift their center of gravity, then flatten out against the wind’s resistance. This slows their descent and lets them control the rest of their flight, which usually ends about 16 to 26 feet away, oftentimes landing on the trunk of the tree they jumped from.
This spider species, taxonomically called Selenops banksi, is not the only arthropod that travels through the air. Many species of spiders disperse into the breeze after hatching in a process called ballooning, which is a bit different.
Ballooning spiders, after hatching, release a strand of silk to catch the breeze, which can lift and carry them great distances from the site they started. S. banksi, on the other hand, routinely jumps from heights of up to 100 feet off the ground, even in adulthood.
Besides being a champion jumper, S. banksi is capable of suddenly sprinting at speeds that make it one of the fastest predators in the forest. It’s also nearly impossible to spot, as the adults of the species have exceedingly thin, leaflike bodies that look just like patches of ordinary lichen.
This camouflage hides the spiders from birds — their main predators — and from tree-dwelling insects — their main prey. The spiders’ drastically flattened bodies help catch air during a fall, allowing them to drift downward at about 3 feet per second, turning a 21-foot leap into a smooth 7-second glide.
The ability to leap does more for the spider than just help it get around predators. The paper’s authors speculate that this ability helps S. banksi survive forest fires and evade waves of army ants that tend to ravage the areas of Panama and Peru in which S. banksi spiders live.
Want to learn more? Check out The Rainforest Site Blog for more incredible (albeit sometimes pretty weird) animals.
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