Scientists, Jumping Spiders, and the Future of Robotics

Most people see spiders as eight-legged monsters that should not co-exist with humans in indoor spaces. While this view isn’t entirely misguided, since there are spiders that are deadly to humans and should be avoided, most species are relatively peaceful. In fact, some can be incredibly useful to science.

Stealth Attacks vs. Aggressive Stalking

Most spider species are relatively mild, preferring to use more passive techniques such as venom and their sticky webs to catch and kill their prey. However, of the over 450,000 known arachnid species, about 13 percent of them can become quite aggressive. These species are known to stalk small prey, eventually lunching at them using a jump attack. They are able to jump a distance of six time the length of their bodies, from a standing start. Even more terrifying is the fac that they can carry close to five times their weight while leaping into the air. For comparison’s sake, humans can only jump 1.5 times their length.

Scientific Application

As scary as all of this is, it does make these species worth studying. Knowing how they manage to make such jumps from a physiological standpoint could lead to numerous scientific breakthroughs. Researchers at the University of Manchester believed just that. They trained a umping spider to leap across a variety of distances under a variety of circumstances, filming the entire thing in ultra-high speed. The goal was to learn more about the way jumping spiders make their long and precise leaps.

The researchers found that for short-ranged jumps, the siders used low-angled trajectories. This minimizes flight time and increases accuracy. The average length of these jumps were about 30 millimeters, fast, and seemed to prioritize speed. Longer jumps of about 60 millimeters in length used steeper angles, giving the spiders the ability to travel longer distances without expending too much more energy.

Unique Eye Formation Helps

One of the reasons why experts speculate these jumping spiders are able to make such great leaps is that their unique eye formation. All species of jumping spiders have four large eyes in the middle of their faces, and four more on the top of their heads. As a result, spiders can quickly determine the height, distance, and trajectory needed.

While this may all seem nightmare inducing, there is a fantastic practical purpose. Researchers hope to use this information to create a jumping or flying robot. The data collected from the study can help developers overcome the weight and other technical restraints keeping robots on the ground.

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