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.
accelerate To experience a change in velocity (speed).
acceleration A change in the speed or direction of some object.
arachnid A group of invertebrate animals that includes spiders, scorpions, mites and ticks. Many have silk or poison glands.
colleague Someone who works with another; a co-worker or team member.
insect A type of arthropod that as an adult will have six segmented legs and three body parts: a head, thorax and abdomen. There are hundreds of thousands of insects, which include bees, beetles, flies and moths.
physical (adj.) A term for things that exist in the real world, as opposed to in memories or the imagination. It can also refer to properties of materials that are due to their size and non-chemical interactions (such as when one block slams with force into another).
physics The scientific study of the nature and properties of matter and energy. Classical physics is an explanation of the nature and properties of matter and energy that relies on descriptions such as Newton’s laws of motion. A scientist who works in such areas is known as a physicist.
prey (n.) Animal species eaten by others. (v.) To attack and eat another species.
rainforest Dense forest rich in biodiversity found in tropical areas with consistent heavy rainfall.
spider A type of arthropod with four pairs of legs that usually spin threads of silk that they can use to create webs or other structures.
Meeting: S. Alexander and S. Bhamla. Slingshot spider: Ultrafast kinematics, biological function and physical models of an extreme arachnid. American Physical Society March Meeting. March 4, 2019. Boston, Mass.