Plants and Animals

Cartwheeling Spider Discovered

April 29, 2014 | by Justine Alford

Photo credit: Prof. Dr. Rechenberg.

A new species of spider has been discovered in Morocco, and it’s quite the gymnast. Cebrennus rechenbergi, which lives in the sand desert Erg Chebbi, is the first species of spider documented to project itself across the sand through cartwheel-like motions. The discovery has been published in the journal Zootaxa.

A similar tumbleweed style spider has been previously described, the golden rolling spider, but this spider is restricted in its agility since it is only able to roll down hills. The arachnid acrobat C. rechenbergi in contrast can propel itself off the ground and initiate “flic-flac” jumps that allow it to travel both along flat ground and uphill. Impressively, this bizarre skill allows the spider to move twice as fast as if it were walking, around two meters per second, and uses it as a getaway card when potential predators approach.

This intriguing spider is also quite the architect; it uses its silk threads to build tubular structures in the sand that protect it from the blaring sun and predators.

This spider appears very similar to another species in found in Tunisia called Cebrennus villosus, but spider expert Dr. Peter Jäger was able to deduce that they were indeed different species since they possessed slight differences in their sex organs. “However, the unique mode of locomotion also serves as a criterion to distinguish the species,” says Dr. Jäger.

The discoverer of the spider, bionics expert Ingo Rechenberg, was so impressed by this springy arachnid that he used it as inspiration for a new robot which has been named “Tabbot” after the Berber word for spider, Tabacha. This robot can both walk and somersault along surfaces, and Rechenberg believes that it may be a useful style of locomotion for robots used to explore the bottom of the sea or even Mars.

Check out a YouTube video of the spider and robot in action here (unfortunately the audio is in German): 

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