When you think of a spider, you probably have a creepy-crawly image of an eight-legged bug scuttling towards you, racing across the ground. Or you might imagine an innocuous black figure huddled on the corner of a web, waiting for unsuspecting prey to fly right into its trap. Whatever you’re thinking about, chances are it’s nothing like the newest spider to hit the scientific journals. This spider is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.
What Is A Slingshot Spider?
Just like its name implies, a slingshot spider does more than building a sticky web to catch its next meal. The slingshot spider is a member of the spider family Theridiosomatidae and is traditionally found in the Peruvian Amazon, and these incredible little spiders are able to fling themselves and their webs across the sky with an acceleration about 100 times greater than a cheetah.
Although they can slingshot themselves and kind of fly, slingshot spiders still make webs. Their webs are conical and feature one strand of webbing that stretches from the tip of the cone back to the spider (in addition to multiple strands of webbing that attach the web to leaves, trees, or other sturdy features around the web). The spider, watching and waiting, pulls back their strand of web to create tension on the cone, and when it senses nearby prey, it leaps. With its incredible speed and ability to spring through the air with its web intact, its prey doesn’t stand a chance.
Scientists used high-speed cameras to watch the spiders in action, and what they discovered astounded them: not only can slingshot spiders accelerate at a rate of 1,100 meters per second squared (compared to the cheetah, which can accelerate at 13 meters per second squared), but they can also move at around 4 meters per second.
What Makes The Slingshot Spider So Unique?
First off, these spiders move faster than any other spider species known to science. And it’s not only their base speed that is so impressive, but it’s also the physics of their movement and the mechanisms used by the spider and the web to protect both during the prey-snatching takeoff and flight that is astounding scientists and arachnophobes alike.
The slingshot spider may be the fastest spider ever and the only spider to use this scientific method of springing and flying, but it is not the only spider to fly through the air. Spiders have been recorded using their possibly innate knowledge of atmospheric conditions, wind patterns, and even electrical charges in the atmosphere of the earth to spin parachute-like webs, toss them up into the air, and float away to greener and buggier pastures. The biggest difference between these airborne arachnids and the much-heralded slingshot spider is that the slingshot spider doesn’t need any meteorologist or specific weather condition to make its move possible. Typical spiders (typical spiders whose toolboxes include being able to soar through the air, anyway) require at least a little breeze to make their flight possible. Slingshot spiders, however, have the ability to leap and fly without any help from mother nature.
What Else Is Out There?
While scientists have no way of knowing how long the slingshot spider has been out in the world, happily slinging and shotting and existing, its discovery has been pretty exciting to the scientific community. Lary Reeves first identified this particular spider while on a completely different expedition in Peru, and while it is still uncertain if Reeves specific slingshot spider is absolutely brand-new to the world, it just makes you wonder: what else is out there just waiting to be discovered?