First ‘flying’ spider found: Creature dropped from tree, ‘steered’ its own way down (VIDEO)

© National Geographic
Researchers claim that they have discovered the first spider that can maneuver itself while gliding through the air just like a base jumper. By way of proof they released a video of the arachnid seemingly steering its way down after being dropped from a tree.

Before coming to their conclusion, scientists dropped 59 spiders from as high as 20 to 25 meters (65 to 80 feet) above ground. They chose so-called “flatties” – “camouflaged” flat-shaped spiders from Panama and Peru for the experiment. The scientific name for the species is Selenops banksi (S. banksi).  
Almost all of the dropped spiders from a sample size of 55 never made it to the ground, but glided back to the trunk of the tree from which they were dropped, the researchers said in their study published on Wednesday in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

The spider in the video released by researchers visibly controls its line of fall.

The researchers say the spiders in the air are more agile than cats as they can turn themselves in milliseconds, pointing their heads downwards to glide. The spiders’ legs were moving on their way down, so scientists believe that they may be being used to steer.

The landing does not hurt the creatures because of their low mass.

“We really did not expect to see gliding behavior in spiders,” Stephen Yanoviak, a head of the study and a tropical arthropod ecologist at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, told National Geographic.

The scientists believe that for spiders, gliding is a way of avoiding the ground, which is likely to be full of potential predators.
“My guess is that many animals living in the trees are good at aerial gliding, from snakes and lizards to ants and now spiders,” said Robert Dudley, a professor of the University of California, Berkeley said, as cited by the university website.

“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,” he added.

Professor Yanoviak believes the results of the study will provoke further research.

“This study, like the first report of gliding ants, raises many questions that are wide open for further study,” he said. “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?” he added.

Professor Yanoviak discovered a decade ago that some species of ants are capable of gliding. Since then he has looked for other wingless arthropods that can jump from one tree to another one.