Apr 30, 2009

Of Cartwheels and Mars

There are three known spiders that elect to roll down sand dunes as opposed to walk down. The palm-sized rolling Sahara spider (Araneus rota) is one of them.

Photo source: VSL: Science

But this isn't just any roll. They don't tumble down the slope like we used to when we were kids. That's too slow. No, this spider does it by doing handsprings. Check out the spider in action. See? Cartwheels! Why walk across the sand when you can do cartwheels? It does so by getting a running start and then springing into the cartwheel, which allows it to travel at around 5 mph. That's faster than the walking speed of your average human.


I know what my nightmares are going to be tonight. I'm stumbling across the barren wastes of the Sahara, weak and delirious with thirst, the sun a blistering orb overhead. But off in the distance, awash in a shimmering heat wave, I see a snow cone stand, complete with every flavor known to man. All I can do is stumble towards it. But then I hear a skittering noise behind me. I turn to see spiders cartwheeling towards me, and I can't outpace them. This face will be the last one I see.

On a more scientific note, these spiders are of great interest to bionics engineers such as Ingo Rechenberg of the Berlin Technical University, who has researched this spider. The spider's means of ambulation might just provide a possible new model for vehicles exploring the surface of mars. Great. Bionic spiders on Mars. That'll be my next nightmare.

Thanks for the article, Karen.


T. M. Cain said...

If you had to go barefoot over burning hot sand, you'd want as few feet touching it for as short a time as possible too!

...I'm sorry, I just find it kind of adorable. Cartwheeling spiders! It's like a children's story!

Zanna said...

Spiders from Mars? Great now I've got Ziggy Stardust stuck in my head. :P

Unknown said...

do you think they go wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee as they roll?

Raging Wombat said...

onionpencil, I don't see how they couldn't.

Marty said...

Ziggy Stardust and the... giant carwheeling face-eating Spiders from Mars?

April Lorier said...

Now here's an idea: a circus of performing spiders! All it would take is some colorful costumes and some large glass containers to house the Barnum and Baily Circus of Spiders! Oh! I amaze myself!!!

W. A. Whipple said...

This is just one of the reasons I love this blog - I learn such weird, cool stuff! :D