Scientists have so far named around 35,000 species of spiders. Arachnids have been designed to survive in so many different ways that they keep biologists busy researching them. Just trying to understand all the different devices that spiders use to capture prey is a challenge. The National Science Foundation just announced a new study from researchers at Georgia Tech of a spider family known as slingshot spiders.
Scientists have known about slingshot spiders since the 1930s, but this is the first study of the kinematic energy, velocity, and acceleration of these Peruvian arachnids. They build a web and then stretch it with a piece of silk to create a three-dimensional spring. They store enough energy in that web spring to produce an acceleration 100 times that of a cheetah. The acceleration creates the force of roughly 130 G’s. That’s more than ten times what fighter pilots can withstand without blacking out.
Slingshot spiders make a web and a tension line as tools to catch their prey. When the target comes within striking distance, the spider releases the tension line and rides the web at ultrafast speed to capture it. This creates the fastest full-bodied motion of any spider. What’s more, it doesn’t involve muscles which frogs, crickets, or grasshoppers use to launch themselves. Every night, the spider creates this complex, three-dimensional spring with vastly more power and energy density than nanotubes or other synthetic materials created by humans.
Researchers are interested in the technique slingshot spiders use to store energy in web silk because engineers could use it to power tiny robots or similar devices. Once again, we have a situation where something found in nature can lead to new materials or processes for humans. When God designs something applying the engineering to make it work, we can study it and use the principles to create useful tools. The lesson of history is that the creation is full of wisdom and design that we can apply for our benefit.
— John N. Clayton © 2020