The flic-flac spider is able to perform cartwheels to get out of the way of danger. This unique defense mechanism may inspire a whole new generation of robots.
Cebrennus rechenbergi is native to Morocco, where it uses the unusual technique to avoid predators. It is a nocturnal animal, sleeping during the hottest part of the day, within tube-like tunnels beneath the dirt. The pair of researchers believes these structures are dug by the animals using bristles and feelers.
Ingo Rechenberg of the Technical University of Berlin in Germany accidentally discovered the unusual organism. The researcher was on an unrelated expedition in the deserts of northern Africa when he noticed an unusual type of spider. He suspected the animals might represent a new species.
When performing this strange behavior, the tiny creatures can travel up to 6.6 feet per second. This is twice as fast as they can run.
Rechenberg brought specimens to Peter Jäger, of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, Germany. The spider researcher conducted a careful analysis of the creatures.
After confirmation of Rechenberg's discovery, the species was classified as a new form of Cebrennus, or huntsman spiders. These are known for their hunting abilities.
So far, the new species has only been seen in the Erg Chebbi region where Rechenberg first encountered the organisms.
Golden wheel spiders, related to the flic-flac, can cartwheel downhill, but the newly-discovered species can perform the move while traveling upward, as well. Although the spiders regularly acted out the behavior in the desert, the act was rarely performed in a laboratory setting.
Rechenberg was so impressed by the ability of the spider to perform this act; he designed a new robot, able to perform cartwheels.
Tabbot is designed to test the nature-inspired technology that could, one day, be used on robotic craft in the depths of the ocean or the surface of Mars. It is able to either walk or tumble, depending on which offers the most efficient method of transportation in varying environments. In unusual conditions like collapsed buildings or mines, the action could help small robots avoid obstacles. The somersaulting robot is named after the Berber word for spider, tabacha.
Amazingly, the tiny animals are also able to create structures to shade itself in the desert.
Rechenberg captured the first samples of the insects before he first observed the animal carry out the unusual behavior. He told the press he started crying when he saw the cartwheels performed for the first time. He has studied the area for three decades.
Discovery of Cebrennus rechenbergi and its ability to perform cartwheels was profiled in the journal Zootaxa.