Ever seen a spider do back flips? If you have arachnophobia, you might not want to, but for everyone else, the spinning Cebrennus rechenbergi desert spider in Morocco is quite a sight.
When it feels especially threatened and unable to resolve that threat by any other means, the recently discovered spider from Morocco’s Erg Chebbi desert will flee from its predator in soaring flipping motions.
Though its default mode is to move forward, the spider can also do back flips – either way, this technique allows it to double its standard speed of 3.3 feet per second to 6.6 feet. Per second!
This spinning-like motion is not necessarily unique to arachnids, but C. rechenbergi is the only one (at least as far as science has documented) that exhibits what the New York Times calls “astonishing moves” on an incline as well.
Fleeing in this way would be done only as a last resort since it requires a great deal of energy, Peter Jäger, who is a taxonomist at the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany, tells the paper. If the spider does five or six of these in a day, it could die. (PDF abstract of Jäger’s article in the journal Zootaxa)
Jäger nicknamed the spider flic-flac, which refers to a move that gymnasts make, but its scientific name was inspired by Dr. Ingo Rechenberg from the Technical University of Berlin.
For the last 30 years, Dr. Rechenberg has conducted an annual pilgrimage of sorts to Morocco, where he studies animals to determine how “they save energy” to survive.
On one such journey five years ago, the bionics expert told NYT that he found a flic-flac spider while on a walk in the desert, so he picked it up. The next day it performed these cartwheels; the extraordinary sight made him cry! But nobody ever found a way to distinguish it from similar species within its genus until now.
Dr. Rechenberg has since built a robot that resembles the spinning spider’s behavior.