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Cart-wheeling spider inspires new robot

Courtesy: Prof. Dr. Rechenberg

Courtesy: Prof. Dr. Rechenberg

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 6:17 PM - Cebrennus rechenbergi -- or the "flic-flac" spider for short -- has developed a neat trick to navigate the sand dunes of the Sahara desert. Now, this innovative arachnid is serving as a source of inspiration for technology that may one day be used in agriculture, on ocean floors -- and maybe even on the planet Mars.

The flic-flac spider was discovered by bionics expert Dr. Ingo Rechenberg on a recent expedition in Morocco.

He passed the find along to Dr. Peter Jäger of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, who was instantly intrigued.

After an exhaustive analysis Dr. Jäger discovered he was looking at a new species -- although it is closely related to Tunisia's Cebrennus villosus spider.

Its gymnastic ability is what sets the new species apart. So far, it is the only known spider that can move by flic-flac jumps. 

RELATED: Spider vs. meteorologist

"Like a gymnast, it propels itself off the ground, followed by a series of rapid flic-flac movements of its legs," reads a statement on the Senckenberg Research Institute website.

"This gives the spider great flexibility – uphill, downhill or on level ground, Cebrennus rechenbergi can move along with ease. It displays this behavior when provoked, e.g., by a ... camel spider, a scorpion or a human. At almost 2 meters per second, the flic-flac jumps allow the spider to move twice as fast as in simple walking mode."

Dr. Jäger told National Geographic the species is something of a "biological wonder".

Flips aren't the only tricks in this spider's arsenal: It is also able to construct silk structures that keep it cool in the desert heat and it can stand on its back legs and fling itself at a potential predator in an attempt to startle it.


Dr. Rechenberg was so inspired by the flic-flac spider’s mode of locomotion that he developed a 25cm long robot model. 

Dubbed the Tabbot -- a nod  “Tabacha", the Berber word for spider -- the small robot can move by walking or somersaulting.

RELATED: Pint-sized predators who fear nothing 

“This robot may be employed in agriculture, on the ocean floor or even on Mars,” according Dr. Rechenberg says.

The complete findings on the recent discovery can be found on the online journal Zoo Taxa.

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