A group of biologists working in Peru and Panama have discovered a species of spider that is able to glide and steer while falling from a tree. While there are several known non-flying insects that are capable of gliding in a controlled fashion after falling, this is the first species of spider that is known to be able to do so, according to a recent article at news.berkeley.edu.
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One of the researchers, Robert Dudley, professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley, said, "My guess is that many animals living in the trees are good at aerial gliding, from ants to lizards to ants and now spiders. If a predator comes along, it frees the animal to jump if it has a time-tested way of gliding to the nearest tree rather than landing in the understory or in a stream."
The spider, from the genus Selenops, is a nocturnal hunting spider with a diameter of around 2 inches at full maturity.
According to Dudley, "The 59 individual Selenops spiders they studied were all well-adapted to skydiving. They are wafer thin and flexible; they maneuver by spreading their legs wide in order to use lift and drag to steer themselves toward the tree trunk when they fall. If they fall upside down, they're able to right themselves in midair."
The researchers mentioned that sometimes they saw the spiders bounce off the trunk, recover and maneuver back to the trunk a second time for a successful landing.