D: Yaël, my favorite comic book character is Spiderman. It’s too bad there isn’t really a spider more like him.
Y: Well Don, in 2019 three researchers from the state of Georgia reported that they discovered a tiny spider in the Peruvian Amazon rain forest that has a behavior that’s surprisingly similar to the web-slinging superhero.
D: How so, Yaël?
Y: The spider uses its web as a slingshot. It attaches a silken thread to the center of the web, and to an anchor point somewhere behind it. Then it reels the central thread in, putting the web under tension and pulling it back into a cone. Then the spider waits at the center of the cone. When a tasty insect flies by, the spider releases the thread, and the spider and its web are flung forward, like a stone from a slingshot. The unfortunate insect is entangled in the web, and the spider attacks. The insect becomes the spider’s dinner.
D: To catch an insect in flight, the slingshot must be really fast.
Y: It is. The researchers studied the spider using high speed digital video imaging. They found that the slingshot spider’s maximum acceleration was more than three thousand feet per second squared. This is a hundred times faster than a cheetah can accelerate towards its prey.
D: I really want to see this video. Is it on the web?
Y: The researchers put it on YouTube in 2014, and as of January 2019 the video has been viewed more than three hundred thousand times. The slingshot spider is an internet star.