This spider slingshots itself at extreme speeds to catch prey

The Peruvian spider and its web go flying with 100 times the acceleration of a cheetah

slingshot spider

DINNER IS SERVED  To catch its prey, the slingshot spider sends itself and its web flying at extreme accelerations.

Lawrence E. Reeves

BOSTON — Tasty insects, look out: In an attempt to catch prey, a speed-demon spider launches itself and its web with about 100 times the acceleration of a cheetah.

That makes these tiny creatures, called slingshot spiders, the fastest-moving arachnids known, scientists reported March 4 at a meeting of the American Physical Society.

Found in the Peruvian Amazon, slingshot spiders weave conical webs. These webs have a single strand attached to the tip of the cone, which the spider reels in to ramp up the tension. When the spider senses a potential meal, it releases the web. The spider and web together zing forward, ensnaring the prey. “Just like that, our spider has dinner,” biophysicist Symone Alexander of Georgia Tech said at the meeting.

Using portable high-speed cameras to catch the spiders’ motion, Alexander and colleagues clocked the spiders at a maximum speed of about 4 meters per second. That’s close to the speed of a jogging human. “It’s a good thing … we’re not their target,” Alexander said of the spiders, a species in the family Theridiosomatidae. Other spiders known for their speediness seem slow in comparison, like the Moroccan flic-flac spider, which cartwheels away from danger at speeds of about 2 meters per second.

The slingshot spider’s maximum acceleration is over 1,100 meters per second squared. Cheetahs, by comparison, accelerate at up to 13 meters per second squared, Alexander said. So that’s a stat that puts the fleet-footed cats to shame (SN: 3/3/18, p. 8).

WEB SLINGER  The slingshot spider launches itself and its web by reeling in a thread attached to the web’s center, and then releasing it. Scientists studying this motion determined it is the fastest spider movement yet recorded.

Physics writer Emily Conover has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago. She is a two-time winner of the D.C. Science Writers’ Association Newsbrief award.

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