This spider slingshots itself at extreme speeds to catch prey

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

To catch its prey, the slingshot spider sends itself and its web flying at extreme accelerations. The motion makes this the fastest known arachnid.

Lawrence E. Reeves

BOSTON, Mass. — Tasty insects, look out: This spider is a speed demon. When it spots prey, it launches itself and its web like a slingshot. This gives it about 100 times the acceleration of a cheetah.

Fittingly, these tiny creatures are called slingshot spiders. They live in the Amazon rainforest of Peru. Their web shot makes them the fastest-moving arachnids known, says Symone Alexander.

She works at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, where she studies the physics of living things. Alexander described the speedy spiders here, March 4, at a meeting of the American Physical Society.

Slingshot spiders weave conical webs. The webs have a single strand attached to the tip of the cone. The spider reels in that strand to ramp up the tension. When it senses a potential meal, it releases the web. The spider and web then together fling forward. This ensnares the prey. “Just like that, our spider has dinner,” Alexander explains.

She and her colleagues used portable high-speed cameras to record the spidey action. These clocked the spiders flying at up to some 4 meters (13 feet) per second. That’s close to the speed of a human jogger. “It’s a good thing… we’re not their target!” Alexander joked.

Other so-called speedy spiders seem slow by comparison. Take the Moroccan flic-flac. This spider cartwheels away from danger at speeds of only about 2 meters per second.

The slingshot spider’s maximum acceleration is more than 1,100 meters (3,600 feet) per second squared. That stat puts cheetahs to shame. Those fleet-footed cats, notes Alexander, only accelerate at up to 13 meters (42.7 feet) per second squared.

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.
Jeff Cremer/PeruNature.com

Physics writer Emily Conover studied physics at the University of Chicago. She loves physics for its ability to reveal the secret rules about how stuff works, from tiny atoms to the vast cosmos.

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