Art by Frank Cho
Researchers investigating spider species which live, feed, breed and ‘walk’ in an upside-down hanging position have found that their lifestyle drives a shape in spiders that confers high energy efficiency, as in oscillatory pendulums.The great majority of land animals evolved legs capable of supporting the weight of their whole bodies, enabling them to move around with their heads above their feet. However, many spider species found it more convenient to literally turn their world upside down. They spend most of their lives hanging suspended by their legs, and ‘walk’ by swinging under the influence of gravity.
One of the focal questions was the evolutionary importance of ‘bridging’ – the technique many spiders use to move between remote plants by building their own silk bridges, which they cross by ‘walking’ suspended upside-down from them. Earlier research by other authors indicated that for monkeys this suspensory way of locomotion might be a more energetically efficient way of transportation than ‘regular’ walking on the ground.
“We discovered that spiders that live upside-down have evolved disproportionately longer legs relative to ‘normal’ spiders, which enables them to move faster while bridging than while ‘normally walking’ on the ground. Particularly ‘clumsy’ walkers are larger spiders, because their long legs – otherwise so convenient for bridging – do not allow an easy lifting of their relatively large body mass” says Dr. Jordi Moya-Laraño from Spain, the principal investigator on this project.
These results have implications for the evolution and ecology of spiders. For example, small spiders that hang from their webs should be able to leave their webs in search for prey by walking on the ground, as found in some tiny spiders, something that large spiders will be unable to do efficiently. link
Ref: Morphological Evolution of Spiders Predicted by Pendulum Mechanics. 2008. Jordi Moya-Laraño et al. PLOS One e1841.