Scientists Find Skydiving Spiders in Panama and Peru

Posted on August 19, 2015

Flat-bodies Selenops spider

Scientists have discovered that a group of nocturnal hunting spiders in forests in Panama and Peru are capable of steering themselves while falling from the tops of trees. The scientists say the spiders steer themselves like a wingsuit flyer. They can return themselves to the bottom of the tree they fell from by steering.

Robert Dudley, a professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley and co-author of the paper, says in a statement, "My guess is that many animals living in the trees are good at aerial gliding, from snakes and 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 is from the genus Selenops. It hunts at night and is about 2-inches (5 centimeters) across. The flat-bodied spiders are described as "wafer-thin." When falling they spread their legs wide to reduce drag. They can also right themselves in mid-air if they are upside down when falling.

Stephen Yanoviak, a professor of biology at the University of Louisville in Kentucky and study co-author, says, "This study, like the first report of gliding ants, raises many questions that are wide open for further study. For instance, how acute is the vision of these spiders? How do they target a tree? What is the effect of their hairs or spines on aerodynamic performance?"

The biologists dropped 59 Selenops spiders from trees during the study and they say all were good at skydiving. Here is a video of one of the skydiving spiders in action.



A research paper on the skydiving arachnids can be found here in the journal, Interface.

Photo: Stephen Yanoviak, University of Kentucky