Some trap-jaw spiders attack their prey with a lightning-fast strike, quickly killing the intended target.
The largest of these creatures is only about 1/8 inch in length, and they are plainly-colored, so these spiders do not normally catch the eye of passersby. However, researchers recently uncovered how these arachnids hunt with a rapid attack that would be the envy of many larger hunters.
Mecysmaucheniid spiders, as these diminutive animals are known to researchers, are native to southern regions of South America, as well as New Zealand. This finding about a little-noticed group of spiders was unexpected to investigators studying the world's vast storehouse of arachnids.
"This research shows how little we know about spiders and how much there is still to discover. The high-speed predatory attacks of these spiders were previously unknown. Many of the species I have been working with are also unknown to scientific community," said Hannah Wood from the National Museum of Natural History.
Wood was a graduate student working in Chile when she first encountered trap-jaw spiders. The researcher noted the insects would hold their jaws open, ready to strike, as they sat waiting on the ground for prey. Wood began to house around 100 of them at her apartment, where she took video of the creatures, including high-speed exposures.
The videos showed at least four forms of these spiders snapped their jaws shut in nearly-instantaneous attacks, in order to ensnare their targets. Similar strikes had been recorded before in the hunting techniques of ants, but this was the first time biologists recorded the behavior in arachnids.
These lightning-fast blows were also found to be extremely powerful. So strong, in fact, that the forces delivered could not be produced solely by the tiny muscles of the arachnid. Biologists have, so far, been unable to explain how the spiders are able to deliver such a powerful bite to their prey, including insects.
Wood was fascinated by spiders from the time she was a child, and she later went on to travel the world studying the eight-legged creatures. The researcher intends to study, in greater detail, how the trap-jaw spider delivers such powerful strikes to targets.
There were 25 recognized species of Mecysmaucheniid spiders, but this new research suggests at least 11 other varieties exist.
Examination of the hunting abilities of Mecysmaucheniid spiders was profiled in the journal Current Biology.