This spider’s killer move is ‘high-speed, power-amplified’ bites

8 Apr 2016

The Chilarchaea quellon. Looking at the face of a trap-jaw spider, the long chelicerae are in front and you can see the fangs at the tip, via H Wood

A spider with a lightning quick attack, and incredibly powerful jaws, has been discovered by scientists, with four separate bouts of evolution found in just one species.

Called the Mecysmaucheniid spider, the tiny but powerful critter is found in New Zealand and South America and its immensely powerful bite was revealed after it was put under the microscope.

The spider’s ant-like attack was discovered by avid arachnid enthusiast Hannah Wood of the  Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, who revealed four distinct, separate bouts of evolution in the species within the Mecysmaucheniid family of spiders.

Different species of Mecysmaucheniid spiders performed at various speeds, with the fastest closing its jaws more than two orders of magnitude faster than the slowest. Four of the dozen species studied enjoyed a power output that exceeded what their muscles should be able to provide.

To generate this speed and force, something other than muscle make-up is needed, but Wood isn’t entirely sure what’s going on just now.

“This research shows how little we know about spiders and how much there is still to discover,” said Wood, whose paper appears in Cell.

“The high-speed predatory attacks of these spiders were previously unknown. Many of the species I have been working with are also unknown to the scientific community.

“Studying these spiders could allow humans to design robots that move in novel ways that are based on how these spiders move,” Wood said.

Mecysmaucheniid spider

This photo shows a new Mecysmauchenius species, which uses power-amplified high-speed predatory strikes, via H Wood

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic