Many women swear (at least to me) that the only reason they would get married is because they might find a spider on the bathroom floor. Now, guys with long arms can double their chances for wedlock if they can knock a spider out of the air as well. Scientists have discovered a species of spiders in South America that can glide down from trees, change directions in midair and land without a splat.
According to a study published in the Journal Interface of the Royal Society, Stephen Yanoviak, a tropical arthropod ecologist at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, has spent years searching for the long-rumored flying spider. Yes, he knows about the gray cross spiders that float down from Chicago skyscrapers on webs woven into balloons and he’s heard about the winged and poisonous Ungoliantitis spider that turned out to be an April Fool’s hoax. He figured he had a decent chance of finding a gliding spider because there are already gliding ants, not to mention squirrels, lizards and snakes.
Sure enough, his team discovered the Selenops species of gliding spiders in Peru and Panama and proved their ability the old-fashioned teenage boy way … by dropping the spiders from trees. After marking the nocturnal and heavily camouflaged spiders with a fluorescent substance, they dropped the flat, two-inch-wide (including legs) arachnids from a height of 80 feet (25 meters) and were amazed to see them right themselves, point their heads in the direction they wanted to glide, change directions on a dime (if dimes could float) and land on tree trunks or the ground without injury.
If you have a child who likes to toss bugs out the window, there’s hope for him or her – Yanoviak and his partner, UC Berkeley biology professor Robert Dudley, have been tossing insects from trees for decades in the name of science and, in addition to the ants and spiders, they’ve discovered that immature wingless cockroaches, mantids, katydids and stick insects can also glide or at least float. Their next study will test the vision of the flying spiders and what effect their hair has on their flight.
In the meantime, arachnophobes in Panama and Peru should keep their windows closed, their newspapers rolled and practice their ducking.