Species: Cebrennus rechenbergi
Range: The super sandy Erg Chebbi region of Morocco
Weird Feature(s): Hand-spring getaway, totally tubular houses
If anybody ever decides to start an arthropod olympiad, we now know which species will be a contender for the floor exercise. A new species of spider, dubbed the “flic-flac spider” or Cebrennus rechenbergi, from the Erg Chebbi region of Morocco has been described in the science journal Zootaxa. It uses an incredibly agile hand spring motion to evade predators: It cartwheels. This escape maneuver, which can spin the arachnid forward at around 6 feet per second, has already inspired a concept for robots that tumble across loose sand.
In an odd twist of fate, the flic-flac spider was first discovered in the Moroccan desert by German bionics expert Prof. Dr. Ingo Rechenberg, who was immediately captivated by the spider’s movement and passed the critter on to Dr. Peter Jager, a spider expert at the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt for identification. Inspired by his find, Rechenberg designed a robot called Tabbot based on the spider’s movement. Inspired by Rechenberg, Jager named the spider after him.
If you’re a learned student of unusual spider locomotion, this little tumbler may remind you of the golden wheel spider native to the Namib desert, which cartwheels downhill to evade predators. While the motion may look similar, it is fundamentally different, since the flic-flac spider’s muscles, not gravity, are powering the flips. Most of the time, the somersaults are performed forwards, but Jager did observe the spiders occasionally rolling backwards as well. Unlike the golden wheel spider that can only tumble down a declining slope, the flic-flac spider can manage completely flat surfaces and was even observed trekking up inclines.
Below is video of the flic-flac spider doing its thing and the Tabbot robot mimicking that thing.
When it’s not being chased by a predator, the flic-flac spider would just assume a walk like its less gymnastic cousins, since the handspring move requires a ton of energy. In fact, if on an especially predator-packed day the spider has to use this maneuver too many times, it can actually die of exhaustion.
Just as odd as the flic-flac spider’s escape method are its tube-shaped homes. Binding sand together with silk, the spiders build burrows in the sand dunes that protect them from the scorching daytime heat (they are nocturnal) as well as those cartwheel-inducing predators.
For another robot mimicking animal athletic ability, check out the Bionic Kangaroo.
Top Image: Still from YouTube video by Peter Jäger