Gliding spider that steers like a wingsuit flier is discovered

A gliding spider has the ability to steer in midair. Photo: Screen grab

A gliding spider has the ability to steer in midair.

A nocturnal hunting spider from the genus Selenops possesses a unique ability to glide and steer like a wingsuit flier when dropped from high places, researchers discovered in the tropics of South America.

As a result, the Selenops spider is now also known as a gliding spider.

The 59 individual Selenops spiders studied by biologists in the tropical forests of Panama and Peru all were able to skydive, enabling them to steer in midair and return to the tree from which they fell. Researchers from University of California, Berkeley, produced this video showing a gliding spider:

Robert Dudley, a professor from the UC Berkeley, and Stephen Yanoviak, a professor from the University of Louisville, have been studying gliding insects in tropical forests for more than 10 years after discovering ants managed to land back on the tree after being accidentally brushed off a branch.

"My guess is that many animals living in the trees are good at aerial gliding, from snakes and lizards to ants and now spiders," Dudley told UC Berkeley News. "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."

A closeup of a gliding spider from the Selenops genus. Photo: Stephen Yanoviak, University of Louisville

A closeup of a gliding spider from the Selenops genus. Photo: Stephen Yanoviak, University of Louisville

The method used to determine the gliding ability of these creatures is a simple drop test. Researchers dust the research subjects with fluorescent powder to identify them easier and drop them from 65 to 80 feet above the ground, according to National Geographic.

Yanoviak described to NatGeo how they glide: "If it wants to turn left, it changes the angle of the right front leg. And if it wants to turn right, it does the same with the left front leg."

"We really did not expect to see gliding behavior in spiders," Yanoviak told NatGeo. "There are no winged spiders. Spiders don't fly."

But only the Selenops spider is a gliding spider.

"Other arachnids—scorpions, pseudoscorpions, whip scorpions and even other types of spiders—merely plummeted to earth," UC Berkeley News wrote.

"As far as adult arthropods are concerned, only ants, bristletails and spiders use directed aerial descent," Yanoviak told UC Berkeley News. "However, the wingless immature stages of various insects that are winged as adults can also glide really well. These include cockroaches, mantids, katydids, stick insects and true bugs."

Dudley said by studying these behaviors, biologists might be able to provide engineers with ideas for how robots can right themselves when falling.

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